Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Players Enter Redistricting Fight

By Nathan L. Gonzales

While Republicans and Democrats battle for the upper hand in selling the recently enacted health care bill, party operatives on both sides of the aisle are solidifying their strategies behind the scenes for the upcoming redistricting fight that will have an impact on Congressional politics for the next decade.

Democrats are making a change at the top of one if their key groups, the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, since Executive Director Brian Smoot is leaving his post to run the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s independent expenditure effort.

“I will be working with the trustees to identify a new director to ensure a smooth and seamless transition,” Smoot said. A decision on his replacement is expected to be made very soon.

The next round of reapportionment and redistricting will be the first since the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which eliminated soft money and therefore is expected to severely limit Members’ involvement in the process.

The parties are forced to use hard dollars or rely on outside groups without Member involvement. But the trust recently asked the Federal Election Commission for an advisory opinion to clarify Members’ roles in certain redistricting activities.

“The Trust seeks to confirm that Members of Congress may solicit funds for the Trust outside the limits and source restrictions prescribed by the Federal Election Campaign Act,” according to the February 19 letter signed by Marc Elias of Perkins Coie on behalf of the trust. “[S]uch solicitations are not intended to influence any federal or non-federal election and will not advocate the election or defeat of any candidate for office.”

“An advisory opinion is a shield, not a sword,” Elias explained in an interview about potential FEC complaints filed by opponents in the future.

Even though redistricting is an inherently political task, Democrats want the FEC to continue to differentiate between legal activity and electioneering.

Republicans are anxiously awaiting the opinion as well. “Everyone wants to see what [the FEC] says,” explained one GOP operative.

“I’m very interested,” laughed prominent GOP attorney Mark Braden, who is working with Making America’s Promise Secure. Depending on how the FEC crafts its response to the trust, it could allow MAPS, a 501(c)(4) that is coordinating the legal and data aspects of redistricting for Republicans, to raise money with Members’ help as well.

A favorable or neutral opinion from the FEC wouldn’t change the strategy for the trust or MAPS, but it could ease the fundraising lift. The FEC has 60 days from when it received the letter, in mid-February, to respond.

Overall, the trust is just one part of the Democrats’ three-legged redistricting stool. The trust handles the legal component while Foundation for the Future, a 527, handles the data and analytical component in preparation for drawing the maps. But the political and electoral element is critical, too.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and its executive director, Michael Sargeant, recently announced a $20 million effort to capture state legislative chambers in order to control the redistricting process.

“The bottom line: The results of the 2010 state legislative elections will define how key reforms and policies are decided for the next decade,” Sargeant said in a March 15 memo.

The Democratic Governors Association is also part of the electoral component since governors in most states have a role in signing off on or vetoing maps. The DGA recently hired veteran Democratic operative Harold Ickes as fundraiser in chief to highlight the importance of gubernatorial races in the redistricting process.

As Democrats ramp up, Republicans are finally catching up with the formation of a new group that features some high-powered GOP players. Last month, the Republican State Leadership Committee, led by former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, launched its REDistricting MAjority Project.

“We want to make sure Republican legislators have pens in their hands,” former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) told Roll Call. Reynolds and others are quick to point out that the redistricting process starts with controlling as many legislative chambers as possible.

The former Congressman is vice chairman of the RSLC and heading up REDMAP, which is organized as a 527 and has a budget of $20 million for nonfederal races this November. Even if the FEC allows Members to raise money for the trust, current Members still could not get involved with a 527 such as REDMAP or Foundation for the Future.

REDMAP’s formation relieves some tension on the Republican side. Traditionally, the RNC has coordinated the GOP’s redistricting effort, relying heavily on soft money. Now post-BCRA, the party was forced to completely restructure its redistricting effort. The RNC will play more of an advisory and educational role this time around.

In contrast, Democrats have relied on outside groups in the past, such as labor unions for fundraising and coordination, making it easier for them to adapt to the new rules this time around.

The Republicans finally seem to be streamlining their operation. REDMAP has essentially joined forces with the American Majority Project, which was created in December and led by former Tennessee Sen. Bill Brock, former North Carolina Rep. Robin Hayes and former RNC Chairman Mike Duncan.

While REDMAP and the Republican Governors Association focus on the 2010 elections and winning seats at the redistricting table, MAPS will handle the data and technical element of redistricting as well as coordinate for the party’s legal strategy for the inevitable legal battles after the maps are drawn.

This story first appeared in Roll Call and on on March 29, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.