Republican Redistricting Efforts Bankrupt for 2011?

by Nathan L. Gonzales January 17, 2011 · 8:15 AM EST

Republicans are in danger of entering the next stage of redistricting at a significant financial disadvantage thanks to a cash-strapped Republican National Committee and a high-profile outside group that never got off the ground.

In 2009, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and GOP lobbyist Charlie Black were part of a group that started Making America’s Promise Secure. The 501(c)(4) was supposed to handle the analytical and legal legs of the redistricting tripod for the GOP.

Traditionally, the RNC centralized the Republican redistricting effort using soft money donations. But the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 banned soft money and left Republicans scrambling to reconfigure their redistricting strategy.

MAPS was supposed to fill the vacuum, corral the GOP’s top redistricting talent and bear the financial burden since the group is not subject to federal contribution limits. But with states on the cusp of drawing new Congressional lines, MAPS is nowhere to be found.

“I don’t see them on the radar, period. Anywhere,” GOP attorney and redistricting veteran Mark Braden told Roll Call.

“I don’t know that they ever got off the ground from a funding perspective,” another veteran redistricting source said. “They raised expectations to a level that they couldn’t meet.”

According to multiple sources involved in the redistricting process on the Republican side, too many big donors didn’t have enough confidence in the group’s leadership and thought the group’s vision was too broad.

When contacted for this story, MAPS Executive Director Michael Smith simply said he was no longer involved in redistricting. It’s unclear whether the group will shutter for good or change its focus.

Democrats have not relied on the national committees to handle redistricting in the past, so their transition to outside groups was virtually seamless.

MAPS’ lack of success is in stark contrast to the tens of millions of dollars raised and the tremendous effect that the American Action Network and Crossroads — two Republican outside groups — had on the 2010 elections.

Their success demonstrated donors’ willingness to address a present problem rather than a future need. Republicans are fortunate that the 2010 investment worked because MAPS doesn’t appear to have any money and the RNC had less than $2 million in the bank and $15 million in debt as of Nov. 22.

Brad Todd, a top consultant for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said it is “not just an accident” that there was a shift in GOP donors toward legislative elections in 2010.

“There was a conscious decision to win elections. People got tired of paying lawyers,” Todd said.

Last year, Republicans captured 20 legislative chambers nationwide in part because of the $30 million raised and spent by the Republican State Leadership Committee. The wins were critical because in most states the legislature leads the re-drawing of the Congressional lines.

The GOP’s midterm success “relieved a lot of pressure” according to one GOP source. “We decreased our legal fees tremendously.”

By controlling more legislative chambers, Republicans are on the inside controlling the map-drawing process instead of being on the outside and having to challenge the maps in court once they are drawn.

“The real money is for lawsuits,” one GOP strategist said about the biggest need for money in redistricting. “And they need more money than we do.”

Republicans said they believe that when the protracted legal fight begins, donors will step up in states where there is need, such as Illinois, Arkansas, California and possibly West Virginia and Missouri, where the party doesn’t control the process. In other states such as North Carolina, the Democratic attorney general will have to defend the GOP-drawn map as the state’s top lawyer if Democrats challenge the map in court.

So instead of MAPS coordinating the legal effort, each state will likely prepare its own legal strategy.

There is some talk of another outside group emerging to handle some of the analytical work that MAPS was supposed to cover, but its formation doesn’t appear to be imminent. GOP redistricting veterans believe there is a need to bring together past election and demographic data in a way that easily merges with the census data once it becomes available, in order to draw maps that accurately project voting trends over the next decade.

For now, and over the past year, the RNC (including Republicans’ top man on redistricting, Tom Hofeller) has been holding weekly conference calls, and various GOP vendors have been doing the heavy lifting on getting the data ready.

There is hope in the GOP redistricting ranks that once party delegates elect a new chairman, confidence will be restored in the RNC as Michael Steele’s reign comes to an end, and donors will give the committee a boost.