January 5, 2012

Did California Democrats rig their state's redistricting process?

Showing how even the best of good-government intentions can run afoul of powerful political interests, ProPublica has put together an in-depth look at how California Democrats worked to influence a supposedly independent redistricting commission approved by voters in 2010:

In the weeks that followed, party leaders came up with a plan. Working with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — a national arm of the party that provides money and support to Democratic candidates — members were told to begin “strategizing about potential future district lines," according to another email.

The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests.

When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party. (Emphasis added)

Fed up with the redistricting process of years past, which was little more than an incumbent protection racket, California voters in 2010 approved — by a 61-39 percent margin — an independent commission to guide the state through their decennial redistricting process. The goal was to take the redistricting process out of the "backrooms" of Sacramento and put it into the hands of regular California citizens who had no connection to the political process. California Democrats opposed the initiative, labeling its $1 million budget "bureaucratic waste," and even attempted to pass a competing ballot initiative, at the same time.

Yet after the initiative was passed, congressional Democrats schemed to use every available tactic and resource, whether ethically questionable or not, to make sure favorable testimony was heard at the commission meetings. This included creating shell groups to advocate on behalf of preferred Democratic maps and having certain speakers give testimony to the commission without disclosing their ties to Democratic politicians.

It's one thing to legitimately organize your supporters; it's another to manufacture support through a web of shell non-profits and lobbyists posing as concerned citizens.

The whole exercise shows the peril of assuming "good intentions" are enough when it comes to government programs.