Monday, September 26, 2011

Redistricting: The Post-Citizens United landscape

Redistricting MinnesotaAll the way back in June MPR reported that:

Three attorneys for Briggs and Morgan have filed as "attorneys of record" for eight citizens in a redistricting case. The attorneys; former MN Supreme Court Justice Eric Magnuson, Elizabeth Brama and Michael Wilhelm, all filed the paperwork this morning to say that they would represent the eight Republican citizens who have filed lawsuits both in federal and state courts.

The Republican Party of Minnesota is working with an independent group, "Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting," on redistricting efforts.

And now comes this ProPublica article:

Minnesotans for a 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.

All of this certainly sounds shady and underhanded; there's the dog whisle sound of "the Koch's" and former candidate for Lieutenant Governor Annette Meeks denying involvement with a group registered to her address. Just another example of Republican's gaming the system, that is, until you also consider that:

Democrats have hired Washington D.C. attorney Marc Elias and Minneapolis attorney David Lillehaug to head up the DFL Party's redistricting efforts in court. Elias represented Gov. Mark Dayton in the 2010 gubernatorial recount and Sen. Al Franken in the 2008 U.S. Senate recount.

The Minnesota DFL Party has also been working with the outside group, Democratic National Redistricting Trust, on its legal efforts. That group is also being represented by Elias.

So the DFL is doing pretty much the same thing as the Republicans in this case. In the same way that Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting is is tied to local Republican operatives, the Democratic National Redistricting Trust is tied to national democratic operatives.

The real issue here is not who the Koch's are giving money to, it's why the two parties are using innocuous sounding front groups to run their redistricting efforts through in the first place? Well, it all goes back to a May 2010 ruling by the Federal Elections Commission:

Federal election officials said Friday that members of Congress helping their parties finance redistricting fights can raise soft money, the unlimited corporate and union cash that a 2002 law bans them from collecting for their campaigns.

And the very next paragraph:

The Federal Election Commission unanimously granted the National Democratic Redistricting Trust's request to let lawmakers raise unlimited contributions and money from corporations and unions for the legal battles likely to occur as congressional district boundaries are redrawn after this year's census.

The Koch's are a red herring in this story, distracting you from what the real story is, the introduction of soft money into the redistricting process, which is certainly a new phenomenon.

In the case of Minnesota at least, I see this less as [insert nefarious industrialist] controlling the process and more as the state parties looking to externalize redistricting costs for the simple reason that now they can.

I mean, look at who the Republicans hired in the end. They didn't use their Koch money to import some DC legal heavyweights, they retained the services of the same legal team they always hire, the Tony Trimble gang. I hardly see that as a coup.

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