Who would you rather redraw your voting districts: politicians, powerful special interests, or corporations? How about the Koch brothers?
It’s a tough call, but don’t worry, the decision is already being made for you.
A new report out from ProPublica says that corporations, unions, and other special interests are bankrolling civic-named organizations like the Center for a Better New Jersey, and Fair Districts Mass. Protect Your Vote. The goal? Redraw the political borders so that come election time, their favorite candidates win with the least amount of resistance.
Skillful redistricting can, of course, help create Republican or Democratic districts, but it can also grace incumbents with virtually guaranteed re-election or leave them with nearly no chance at all. In the process, it can also create seats almost certain to be held by minorities or break those same groups apart, ensuring that they have almost no voice.
But it’s not cheap, and that’s where corporations and other outside interests come in. They can provide the cash for voter data, mapping consultants and lobbyists to influence state legislators, who are in charge of redistricting in most states. Outside interests can also fund the inevitable lawsuits that contest nearly every state's redistricting plan after it is unveiled.
The first in a series on redistricting and the 2012 elections, the report gives examples like Minnesota’s group Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting. The group describes itself as independent. But who’s heading the group—and who is paying its bills—show common threads with Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, funded by conservative billionaires the Koch brothers. Both Fair Redistricting and the Freedom Foundation’s tax filings have the same address, that of husband and wife Jack and Annette Meeks. Fair Districting is registered under the name of Jack, who is on the board of the Freedom Foundation—where wife Annette is the head.
In Massachusetts, Fair Districts Mass says its goal is helping minorities in the Boston area find better representation. But the group’s funding—which can include unlimited donations from corporations—doesn’t need to be detailed under current law. Perhaps more interesting: Minority groups say new districting maps proposed by Fair Districts Mass won’t actually help minorities at all.
“Even though the numbers might look as if that might be favorable to communities of color, if you look at voting patterns, it actually won’t be.” Alejandra St. Guillen of Latino organization Oiste tells ProPublica.
It's happening all over the national and political map. In California, unions are trying to use similar methods to help their preferred candidates. Florida Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat, represents one of the most strangely shaped districts in the state—the result of a deal with other legislators to scoop out black communities that would support her, while removing them from challenging candidates in other more conservative districts.
Meanwhile in Texas, a redistricting map signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry is under new scrutiny from the Department of Justice, for what the DOJ says is purposfully disenfranchising minority voters, according to Talking Points Memo.