Parties Solidifying Redistricting Plans

Nathan L. Gonzales October 1, 2009 · 9:00 AM EDT

Republicans were at risk of falling further behind Democrats in organizing for the post-2010 round of redistricting, but a new group led by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is looking to fill the gap.

Redistricting may seem like a far-off exercise, but both parties are solidifying their strategies to tackle the expansive and expensive decennial task. Making America’s Promise Secure, the group headed by Lott and Gingrich, is a 501(c)(4) focused on the GOP redistricting effort.

Until now, the two parties have taken different approaches to tackling the electoral, analytical and legal components of the redistricting process.

Traditionally, the Republican National Committee centralized the GOP effort while Democrats relied on a coalition of outside groups. But passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002 left Republicans scrambling to reconfigure their traditional strategy, since the RNC used to fund the redistricting tasks with soft money. Democrats, meanwhile, because they had not relied on soft money to fund their redistricting efforts in the past, have been viewed as better positioned ahead of the 2011-2012 redraw.

“We saw a need and stepped up to fill it,” said Charlie Black, chairman of the MAPS Board of Directors.

Earlier this year, Republicans were in the conversation stage while Democrats were hitting their stride. This spring a group of former high-level operatives from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee formed the National Democratic Redistricting Trust to lead the legal leg of the party’s redistricting tripod.

The group’s trustees include former DCCC executive directors Brian Wolff and John Lapp and former DCCC Political Director Peter Cari. Prominent Democratic attorney Bob Bauer, who is married to White House Communications Director Anita Dunn, is the chief counsel for the group.

During the last round of redistricting, many Democrats felt like they couldn’t match the Republicans’ legal resources, so the redistricting trust is the Democratic effort to bolster that component of the party’s strategy.

Democrats believe that a trust — and not a 527 or 501(c)(4) — is the most flexible structure for this particular purpose, since other traditional tax-exempt structures aren’t appropriate and the group does not support specific candidates.

“We’re putting together a national legal advisory board along with state-by-state legal teams in cooperation with Congressional delegations and state delegations,” said Brian Smoot, the trust’s executive director and a former DCCC political director. “And we will be undertaking legal research and drafting strategic memos for each state.”

Foundation for the Future, a 527 organized in July 2006, will continue to lead the analytical component of redistricting for the Democrats. The coalition, which includes the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, the National Committee for an Effective Congress and other Democratic groups, seeks to provide Democratic caucuses in each state with data, mapmaking software and demographic projections.

The Democratic National Committee convenes regular meetings with the key players in the party to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Democrats have left the analytical work to Foundation for the Future and the legal work to the redistricting trust. MAPS is seeking to fill both roles on the Republican side and provide a new home for the stable of Republican operatives who traditionally work on redistricting through the RNC.

The RNC, which appointed Tennessee National Committeeman John Ryder to head the redistricting committee this spring, will still have a role in redistricting, but many GOP strategists agree that they shouldn’t spend hard dollars on a task that can be done by an outside group using soft money.

The passage of BCRA, which eliminated soft money, severely limits Members’ involvement in the process. That’s why it is critical for former Members such as Gingrich and Lott and ex-Reps. Bob Walker (R-Pa.) and Vin Weber (R-Minn.) to be involved. Making America’s Promise Secure, the National Democratic Redistricting Trust and Foundation for the Future are not subject to federal contribution limits.

This spring, the RNC also signed on GOP redistricting authority Tom Hofeller as an outside consultant, but strategists believe he could eventually have a dual role as an outside consultant with MAPS as well.

“We want to provide the best umbrella for all experienced people who want to be involved to work on redistricting,” said Black, a lobbyist with BKSH & Associates Worldwide and a former senior adviser to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential bid.

Democrats “have a permanent organization and never stopped,” Black said. “We felt some urgency, but we still have plenty of time.”

MAPS, with the help of national Republican data and technology firm Intell360, is looking to take on the laborious and expensive process of analyzing the data. There is a need to collect and reformat the data (including election results and voter registration) in such a way that it can be easily merged with the new census data when it becomes available.

Then the data needs to be put in a usable format, coupled with mapmaking technology and made available to state caucuses or national groups at a minimal price. And key elected officials, staff and attorneys that will be involved in the redistricting process need to be trained.

“We’re trying very hard to be one-stop shopping, under the law,” said MAPS Executive Director Michael Smith, an Ohio field operative who was working for a 527 called Majority America and is closely tied with House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) staff.

MAPS is also seeking to lead the Republicans’ legal strategy by incorporating many of the party’s attorneys with experience on redistricting, including Ben Ginsberg, Mark Braden and Cleta Mitchell.

While there is some skepticism that one organization can do it all, MAPS is working quickly to corral the experienced redistricting talent on the Republican side.

“They’re the first out of the gate and have some heavyweights on their side,” said one House GOP aide, who expects MAPS to go through some growing pains.