ProPublica Shines a Light on Secret Gerrymandering Money

Every ten years, politicians get together in statehouses and redraw congressional districts to squeeze their opponents and entrench themselves in power. And they get scads of corporate and union money (but mostly corporate money, it seems) to do it.

Redistricting makes it extremely difficult to unseat some incumbents and effectively takes lots of elections out of the hands of voters. It’s a big reason why our political system is so broken. Today, ProPublica has the excellent first installment of an investigation into the money behind gerrymandering.

The number of these purportedly independent redistricting groups is rising, but their ties remain murky. Contributions to such groups are not limited by campaign finance laws, and most states allow them to take unlimited amounts of money without disclosing the source.

Comforting, no?

ProPublica finds one group, chaired by Representative Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat, got $800,000 to fight an anti-gerrymandering push that would threaten her district. At least $50,000 of that money came from Honeywell and CSX, two companies whose businesses have or stand to benefit from her position on a congressional subcommittee. Effectively, these companies were giving that money to Brown’s campaign. It’s not hard to imagine why, despite Honeywell’s bogus spin that it wants “redistricting that is consistent with the historical practices that have served the State’s many diverse constituents well for decades.”

That transparent nonsense is particularly interesting because of the other shadiness and outright falsehoods that ProPublica uncovers. Like this:

In Minnesota, for instance, the Republicans’ legal efforts to influence redistricting are being financed through a group called Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting.

Fair Redistricting describes itself as independent, but it has much of its leadership in common with the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a group with ties to the political empire of the Koch brothers, industrialists from Kansas who’ve spent millions funding conservative causes. The head of the Freedom Foundation, Annette Meeks, told ProPublica she has “no involvement” with Fair Redistricting. But both organizations’ tax filings list the same address: Meeks’ home address.

Fair Redistricting is registered under the name of her husband, Jack Meeks, who is also on the board of the Freedom Foundation. He did not respond to requests for comment.

I’m sure these guys have an impenetrable Chinese wall on all things redistricting.

Then there’s the Republican who recently dropped “Republican” from his Massachusetts organization’s name so it could give gerrymandering money:

“It’s not about shifting Massachusetts from Democrat to Republican,” Winslow said. “It creates an opportunity for challenges, for challengers to challenge the status quo.”

Uh huh.

These misleading and/or false statements are the best evidence that ProPublica is really onto something here.

As is the fact that, despite not agreeing on much of anything these days, the parties can come together on the critical importance of unlimited secret donations for redestricting:

The national Democratic and Republican parties are also working to limit disclosures about fundraising for redistricting. Both parties have raised and spent tens of millions of dollars on redistricting through their traditional conduits of money into state politics, the Republican State Leadership Committee and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. And both have been pushing to keep increasing parts of those efforts exempt from disclosure requirements.

That kind of nontransparency makes this area ripe for corruption.

Fine work by ProPublica.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,