Redistricting draws unregulated cash

March 30, 2011


Top House Republicans and Democrats are raising millions of dollars for redistricting fights, opening the floodgates for what could be a $30 million campaign funded in part by unregulated, unreported soft money.

They’re doing so with permission from the Federal Election Commission and a waiver from the House Ethics Committee, but campaign watchdog groups worry that it could lead to abuses and a lack of transparency for millions in big money donations.

Rep. Mike Thompson of California, who is spearheading the effort on behalf of House Democrats, recently told Democratic colleagues that the goal is to raise at least $12.5 million in soft money, funds that will be funneled — with the donors remaining anonymous— to an organization called the National Democratic Redistricting Trust.

The Federal Election Commission voted last year to permit members to raise funds for the group, which was set up by three former House Democratic operatives, although the amount of money involved in the Democratic effort was unclear until now.

Now Republicans are getting in on the act.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, who is in charge of the GOP redistricting program, said House Republicans hope to raise even more than the Democrats, perhaps as much as $20 million in hard and soft money.

Much of the money will go to legal fights, as both sides expect lawsuits under the Voting Rights Act as states start redrawing congressional maps to reflect the population and demographic shifts of the past decade.

The size and scope of this unregulated fundraising effort shows just how much is at stake with redistricting this year for both parties. Rust Belt states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania will be losing seats as the U.S. population continues to shift toward the South and West. New York will also lose two seats. Texas will gain four congressional seats, cementing its status as the second-biggest House delegation after California. Florida will also add two seats of its own.

The GOP avalanche on Election Day resulted in the major wins at the statehouse level for Republicans, giving the party control over drawing maps for 196 seats, against only 49 seats for Democrats. This GOP dominance in the statehouses sparked predictions by some political analysts that Democrats would get routed during redistricting as Republicans drew new congressional maps across the nation. But Democrats now predict they will come out of redistricting in decent shape, either with small gains or losses but definitely not the landslide some observers forecast.

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