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Murdoch-Funded Anti-Gerrymandering Group Hired Lobbyists With a History of Gerrymandering

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It’s not unusual for billionaires and lobbyists to set up political groups that masquerade as grassroots movements, but most of the time they make it slightly difficult for the rest of us to figure out what’s going on. Other times, however, it’s not that hard.

Take the curious case of Kathryn Murdoch and Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering. According to its incorporation papers, Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering was formed in early August by the Gober Group, an election law firm based in northern Virginia. The first public mention of Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering came a month later, in an announcement by Unite America, a once obscure political organization that raised its profile earlier this year when Kathryn Murdoch became its co-chair and largest donor; she’s a daughter-in-law of Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch. On September 19, Unite America announced that it is providing more than $5 million in funding to Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering and three groups in Massachusetts, Alaska, and New York that advocate for ranked-choice voting and fairer redistricting.

Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering is in favor of an independent citizens commission to draw federal district lines in Pennsylvania following the 2020 census, according to the group’s website. Its proposed legislative framework would “prohibit elected officials from serving on the commission, impose a supermajority requirement to adopt maps, and introduce standards for public transparency during the map drawing process.” It’s the kind of agenda that’s favored by advocates of voting reform who don’t want Republicans or Democrats to dominate the process.

But there appear to be a number of anomalies in the available information about Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering, the most important of which is that lobbyists associated with it were previously involved in precisely the kind of gerrymandering the group is supposed to stand against. Two of the most powerful lobbying firms in the state — Long, Nyquist & Associates and Maverick Strategies — are registered as working on behalf of Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering, but both firms are regarded as GOP-inclined. And both firms have lobbyists who were closely linked to the notoriously rigged election maps that Republicans engineered in the state after the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

The rollout of Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering has been surprisingly quiet. Unite America’s announcement of its funding received almost no attention; there appear to have been no news stories about it in September, and Unite America didn’t even mention it on Twitter. In Pennsylvania, voting reform activists had no idea that a newcomer existed and was being praised and singled out for extremely generous attention by a New York City billionaire (the Murdoch family is worth nearly $20 billion). Jill Greene, executive director of the League of Women Voters’ Pennsylvania chapter, told The Intercept last month, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of them.”

Pat Beaty, the legislative director of the nonpartisan Fair Districts PA, laughed out loud when he read Unite America’s description of Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering as “leading the legislative advocacy campaign” for fair elections in the state. “I have never heard of these people,” he said.

While it is not known how much Unite America is giving to Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering, it is making large grants to the other groups it is backing. The head of Voter Choice Massachusetts, Mac D’Alessandro, told The Intercept that his organization is receiving more than $1 million in matching funds from Unite America. The New York organization funded by Unite America, Rank the Vote, is getting $500,000, according to Susan Lerner, executive director of the New York chapter of Common Cause, which is a key participant in Rank the Vote.

The funding for Beaty’s organization in Pennsylvania pales in comparison: Fair Districts has an annual budget of about $125,000 raised from small donors in the state, according to Beaty.

After The Intercept reached out, Unite America altered its description to say that Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering was “supporting” a legislative advocacy campaign rather than “leading” it. Unite America also removed a reference to Fair Districts, after Beaty said Fair Districts contacted Unite America to say it didn’t want its name used in their announcement. Unite America; Long, Nyquist & Associates; the Gober Group; Maverick Strategies; and Kathryn Murdoch did not reply to repeated requests for comment.

What this means is that all of a sudden, a new group with a billionaire backer, no track record, not much of a paper trail, a disinclination to talk with reporters, and lobbyists with a history of undermining fair elections appears to have far more money at its disposal than established groups. And this is occurring in one of the most important swing states in the country.

The grants from Unite America are “just the beginning,” according to its September announcement. While Unite America has not provided any figures on its plans for future spending, Kathryn Murdoch suggested, in an interview last month with the New York Times, that she and her husband James (who is Rupert Murdoch’s second son) intend to make at least $100 million in political donations. She described herself as a “radical centrist” and has contributed the maximum amount allowed to Pete Buttigieg’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“I am thrilled to support these campaigns alongside a growing community of philanthropists who are stepping forward to help accelerate the democracy reform movement,” Murdoch said in the September announcement.

The question of how America elects its representatives is, in some ways, more consequential than the question of who runs for office  — because voting systems can all but determine which candidates win. Citizen-led and nonpartisan redistricting commissions are generally seen as the best way to draw fair boundaries of legislative districts, rather than leaving it in the hands of party politicians. But the details matter. The criteria for a commission — such as preserving rural counties over ethnic communities of interest — could deeply shape the outcome. And nonpartisan commissions have reportedly been used by partisans to cover for gerrymandering in the interests of one party or another in states across the country.

The only Pennsylvanians who appear to be connected to Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering are not ordinary ones: They are lobbyists at Long, Nyquist & Associates and Maverick Strategies. Long, Nyquist & Associates has a team of 20 lobbyists registered to work for the group, according to state records, and Long, Nyquist & Associates’ website lists Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering as one of its clients. The firm, based in Harrisburg, the state capital, has lobbyists with a deep history of shaping redistricting efforts in favor of the GOP. The firm’s co-founder is Michael Long, a veteran GOP operative. In 2002, following the 2000 census, Long, then a GOP staff member to Lt. Gov. Robert Jubelirer, managed the redistricting process for the Pennsylvania Senate Republicans.

In the 2000 election, under the old maps, the state was closely divided, with Republicans controlling 11 House seats and Democrats controlling 10. Following the census, however, with the GOP in control of the state legislature and governorship, and Long as a principal architect, boundaries were set for maximum partisan power. The state experienced less population growth than other states, meaning Pennsylvania lost two House districts. The gerrymander concentrated Democratic voters into tightly packed districts, while spreading GOP-leaning areas into pockets designed to limit competitiveness.

The state was a crucial battleground in an effort championed by Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s strategist, to secure Republican congressional majorities through high-tech mapmaking. The Pennsylvania plan, authored by Long, made at the “behest of White House and national GOP strategists,” produced the “biggest pro-Republican swing in the nation,” according to a report in the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

In the following midterm election in 2002, Republicans won 12 House seats and the Democrats controlled only seven House seats. In 2004, votes were about evenly distributed among Democratic and Republican House candidates, but the GOP again maintained its five-seat advantage.

“This state is very much becoming more Republican and this map, frankly, helps in that trend,” Long told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2002, as the reapportionment process came to a close.

In 2007, Long moved to the private sector, co-founding his consulting firm. Another senior GOP operative, Todd Nyquist, joined two years later. But Long continued to stay involved in Republican campaigns and efforts to use Pennsylvania’s election boundaries to strengthen the GOP’s partisan advantage in federal elections, this time for the presidential campaign.

In 2011, Long helped create an organization called All Votes Matter, which was designed to change the way the electoral votes in the state are awarded. Rather than a winner-take-all system that is in place in most states, the group sought to award the electoral college by congressional district, a system that would have ensured a Republican would win the majority of Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes even if President Barack Obama (or any future Democrat presidential candidate) had carried the state in his 2012 reelection. Following a national outcry over the attempt, the All Votes Matter bid failed.

The 2011 gerrymander was an even more sophisticated effort by the GOP. In 2010, the tea party wave brought Republicans to power again in Pennsylvania, with control of the state legislature and governorship. The ascendant GOP again used the census reapportionment to carefully tailor the mapmaking process to create what election analyst Sean Trende wrote could be the “Gerrymander of the Decade.”

The map created “a group of Rorschach-inkblot districts in southeastern Pennsylvania,” as Trende noted, winding and curving to lock Democratic voters into deeply blue seats, while merging two Democratic districts in the western part of the state. Democrats were placed at a disadvantage, while 13 House seats for Republicans were drawn as safe seats. The map worked as intended. In 2012, the first congressional election post-redistricting, Democrats won a majority of statewide votes for House campaigns but Republicans managed to win 13 of the state’s 18 congressional districts.

Pennsylvania’s 7th District, designed to be held by a Republican in the generally Democratic-leaning Philadelphia suburbs, served as one particularly egregious example. The district was spread out over five counties, carving up individual communities with partisan and racial intent. At one point, in the 7th District, a city was divided with a connection point drawn so narrowly that one part of the district is connected only by a single steakhouse restaurant.

Michael Long is not the only connection between Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering and gerrymandering of the past. State Rep. Mike Turzai, the leader of the state House Republican drive to draw the 2011 gerrymander, later thanked his chief of staff, Krystjan Callahan, for his role in helping shape the effort. Callahan is now a lobbyist for Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering, through his work at Maverick Strategies.

What’s striking about the 7th District is that Unite America actually cites it as an example of egregious gerrymandering — yet doesn’t mention that the district was created, in part, by the lobbyists who are now supposed to be fighting against abuses of its sort.

It is not clear why Unite America and Long, Nyquist & Associates joined forces in what they claim to be a nonpartisan redistricting effort ahead of the 2021 redistricting cycle. But it appears their relationship may go back to at least 2014. The executive director of Unite America, Nick Troiano, ran in a congressional Pennsylvania district in 2014 as an independent against an incumbent Republican, Thomas Marino. According to FEC records, Marino’s campaign consultants included Long, Nyquist & Associates. Marino was reelected to Congress with 62 percent of the vote.

Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering also appears to be getting help from at least one other lobbyist involved with prior gerrymandering efforts by the GOP. Alan Philp, the contact listed for Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering on its lobbying registration forms and on a website registration, is a Colorado-based Republican consultant who was involved in a 2016 ballot measure attempt, called End Gerrymandering Now, that sought to reform Colorado’s redistricting process. But critics alleged that the group was a stealth attempt by the GOP to craft rules that favored Republican candidates by insufficiently prioritizing district lines that preserve “communities of interest.” The Colorado Independent, a left-leaning outlet, wondered if the group was “actually a nefarious Trojan Horse plot to tint Colorado red?”

Wait! Before you go on about your day, ask yourself: How likely is it that the story you just read would have been produced by a different news outlet if The Intercept hadn’t done it? Consider what the world of media would look like without The Intercept. Who would hold party elites accountable to the values they proclaim to have? How many covert wars, miscarriages of justice, and dystopian technologies would remain hidden if our reporters weren’t on the beat? The kind of reporting we do is essential to democracy, but it is not easy, cheap, or profitable. The Intercept is an independent nonprofit news outlet. We don’t have ads, so we depend on our members — 35,000 and counting — to help us hold the powerful to account. Joining is simple and doesn’t need to cost a lot: You can become a sustaining member for as little as $3 or $5 a month. That’s all it takes to support the journalism you rely on.Become a Member 

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Peter Maass[email protected]​

Lee Fang[email protected]​

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“Worth This Investment”: Memos Reveal the Scope and Racial Animus of GOP Gerrymandering Ambitions

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In court and in public, many top Republicans have denied gerrymandering gives them any advantage at all. They’ve captured state legislatures and won an edge in Congress, some have suggested, due to superior candidates, better campaigns, and natural geographic sorting that clusters Democrats in urban areas and spreads Republicans more efficiently across the suburbs and rural America.

“The problem is not district lines; the problem is weak candidates who run poor campaigns based on bad ideas,” said Chris West, spokesperson for former Virginia Speaker of the House William Howell, in 2017.

“We have better candidates, better issues and a better understanding of what our constituents want to do,” Wisconsin state Rep. Kathleen Bernier told the Wall Street Journal in the same year.

In a trove of never before published memos and emails, however, GOP leaders come clean: Their nationwide advantage in state legislatures and Congress is built on gerrymandering. And top Republican strategists and political operatives admit to weaponizing racial data and the Voting Rights Act in order to flip the South red and tilt electoral maps in their direction.

Those are among the revelations from over 70,000 documents, maps, and emails, obtained by The Intercept, that were culled from the hard drive backups of the late redistricting mastermind Thomas Hofeller. Though the exact purpose or destination — and sometimes even the author — of each memo is not always clear, the thinking revealed in the documents and drafts is illuminating. Some appear to be regular updates for Republican leadership, top stakeholders, and key donors.

They offer additional insights into the Republican’s 2010 Redistricting Majority Project, or REDMAP, strategy — a $30 million push to capture swing-state legislative chambers ahead of the decennial redistricting — and new evidence that the GOP viewed these maps as the firewall that allowed them to retain control of the U.S. House and multiple state legislatures despite the 2012 Democratic wave.

The title of one late 2012 memo makes it clear: “RNC Redistricting Program Underpins GOP Success in U.S. House and State Legislatures.” That memo appears to have been written by Hofeller himself. Also, in 2011, strategists boasted that the “energy and resources poured into last year’s legislative races are paying large dividends in the ongoing redistricting process,” and that “the tide of victory” helps “increase our control” over new maps.

Perhaps most importantly, some memos explicitly state the connections between race and redistricting, and say that Republican strategists working with the highest level of the national party sought to exploit the creation of “majority-minority” seats as part of a strategy to both pack black voters into a limited number of seats and equate Democrats and minorities in the minds of white voters, especially across the South.

A December 2014 memo from the redistricting firm co-founded by Hofeller, Geographic Strategies, states that “the GOP’s success in redistricting actually had its genesis in a decade-long struggle in the federal court system beginning in the 1980s.” It appears to be addressed to the leadership of the Republican National Committee. Geographic Strategies was contracted by the RNC over much of this decade for more than $22,000 a month in legal work, mapmaking, and litigation advice from Hofeller and his partner, Dale Oldham.

Republicans could benefit, the unusually candid memo maintained, through clever application of the Voting Rights Act and the creation of black and Latino districts where possible. It provides a startlingly frank discussion of the GOP’s modern Southern strategy, and the primary role played by race and redistricting, especially following the 1982 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act.

Black and Latino voter representation increased under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allowed the creation of majority-minority seats to provide minority voters with the opportunity to elect members of their own choosing, where possible. The measure was a way to make sure minority votes were not diluted. It does not state that these districts needed to pack 50 percent — or more — of the minority voters into one district in order to so. But that’s what Republican mapmakers did.

So, as black and Latino voters were packed into “majority-minority” seats, surrounding districts became whiter and more Republican. This was no accident, these memos suggest, but a conscious, decadeslong plan: “GOP attorneys and redistricting experts successfully fought three decades of court battles which culminated just this November when the GOP gained full political control of the entire South.”

As “more and more minority districts” were created, the memo maintains, “Democrats became less and less able to take advantage of strong Democratic minority areas to create districts which would elect non-minority Democrats to both state legislatures and Congress.” In other words, the GOP redistricting strategy helped turn the South red by making minorities the face of the Democratic Party throughout the region. White moderate Democrats were replaced by a small number of progressive minorities and a larger number of white conservative Republicans.

Hofeller’s files include candid updates on the state of the redistricting fight from 2011, when this decade’s mapmaking began, through 2014, as GOP-drawn maps in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and elsewhere became enmeshed in litigation as unconstitutional partisan or racial gerrymanders. They capture the jubilation among Republican strategists after the 2010 GOP landslide, as they immediately recognized the power gained by drawing advantageous maps across swing states like Ohio, Michigan, and Florida, and celebrate the success of a California initiative establishing independent redistricting in a state ordinarily run by Democrats. They also capture the long sigh of relief after the 2012 Obama reelection, and how they, in private, credit GOP maps for allowing the party to maintain control of Congress and many state legislatures even with fewer overall votes.

The memos show that top GOP leaders recognized what they’d won in November 2010: When they gained control over state legislatures in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, and many other states, they also gained control over redistricting. It was also a census year, meaning they’d be able to draw new districts in more than 75 percent of states gaining or losing a member of Congress due to population shifts in the decennial reapportionment. Democrats, one memo noted, would “take the hit.”

The boasting began early: “The Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania congressional maps offered strong victories for Republicans so far in the redistricting process,” Hofeller wrote in a 2011 end of year status update to Republican stakeholders. “Georgia’s one seat gain in reapportionment benefits the GOP as the legislature is fully controlled by Republicans. They used this opportunity to draw a new GOP congressional seat and tighten control of other districts.”

Indeed, REDMAP, a program the Republican State Leadership Committee funded with $30 million contributed from top GOP donors including Reynolds American, Altria, and Walmart, would prove even more effective that Republicans imagined. Even in 2018 — four election cycles into these maps, and long past the time when most gerrymanders remain effective — Republicans won towering majorities in Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin legislative chambers with fewer total Republican votes.

But what these memos and internal documents demonstrate is that this was a far-reaching strategy designed to make minority rule part of the American electoral landscape. A November 8, 2010, memo from then-RNC Chair Michael Steele to national committee members described the party’s electoral victories the week before as “not just dramatic, they were historic” and the “best showing by the Republican party in generations.”

More importantly, Steele observed, the 2010 victories set the party up for a decade of dominance. “Viewed in the context of redistricting, the Republican legislative gains are even more impressive,” he wrote.

Steele also noted that California voters passed an initiative establishing an independent redistricting commission for congressional districts, “reducing the number of Congressional seats in which Democrats control the redistricting process nationally by more than a third.”

As maps began to emerge across the country, many drawn by Hofeller and others under his tutelage, the gerrymandering mastermind understood just how advantageous these new congressional lines would be for his side.

Hofeller surveyed the nation in a memo drafted for the RNC, called “Redistricting Narrative State-by-State 2011.” He liked what he saw. Hofeller looked especially excited about North Carolina, where, the memo details, a congressional map he thought favored Democrats during the 2000s was “a problem we should be able to remedy. … Look for large GOP gains in congressional seats in State as well as out being able to shore up our legislative chambers majorities.” (The maps in North Carolina were struck down recently for partisan gerrymandering, in part based on files from Hofeller’s backups showing calculations by race.)

In February 2012, more than eight months before a vote would be cast in any of these districts, he provided the Republican State Leadership Committee with a state-by-state roadmap. In Pennsylvania, he observed, “The GOP congressional remap was very aggressive, with the Democrats taking the hit on the lost seat and the GOP strengthening its margins in many of its present seats.” He had similar news from Ohio, Michigan, and Georgia, where, he wrote, the “GOP is fully in control and used the opportunity to draw a new GOP congressional seat and tighten control of other districts.”

In Florida, Hofeller noted the passage of a constitutional amendment with “vague language” forbidding any effort to draw districts that favor or disfavor either side, “which, of course, happens in any redistricting map.” And he smiled upon California, describing a 2001 compromise between Democrats and Republicans as an incumbent-friendly “‘sweetheart’ deal … entirely designed to eliminate competition.” The new maps, he reported, would lead to a “somewhat increased level of partisan competitiveness.”

In Texas, meanwhile, Hofeller and his firm warned that legislative Republicans were overreaching in their plans, and jeopardizing GOP gains, by diluting the vote of Latinos.

Hofeller’s firm rang the alarm in early June 2011 after analyzing the legislature’s latest map. “There is no new Latino district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — with all the Latino and African populations not contained in Congresswoman Johnson’s District (30-D) being fractured between GOP districts in the area,” he noted, in a memo marked confidential and addressed simply to “the RNC chief counsel.”

“The Democrats will have no trouble pointing to the fact that the GOP is well aware of ALL the possibilities available to fix these deficiencies, with many of them already on our record,” Hofeller writes. “In addition, MALDEF [the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund] has already submitted its own maps into the record. Proving [discriminatory] intent will be no problem for them.” Indeed, the 2011 maps would be struck down for their discriminatory intent; slightly reworked maps were also the subject of contentious litigation, and ultimately upheld 5-4 by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.

The Texas attorney general, Hofeller said, understood the risks the legislature could be taking but appeared unable to steer the chambers into a legal “safe harbor,” which would only end up helping the Democrats. “The other side,” he adds, “only needs one good mistake on our part to stall us and decrease our possible seat gains by forcing the remap into the Texas federal court.”

As early as October 2011, Hofeller and Oldham recognized that while Republicans had the electoral edge and had achieved important victories in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and elsewhere, but Democrats appeared better funded to litigate maps and unwind the GOP success. In Colorado, Minnesota, Maryland, Nevada, and elsewhere, a memo called “Redistricting Hot Spots” that includes revisions by both partners warned that the GOP needed to invest in the legal fight or risk watching their edge evaporate. Illinois, he wrote in the 2011 wrapup, “is the only state in this round of redistricting where the Democrats have control and were able to inflict major damage on the GOP.”

Hofeller was less sanguine about the Arizona redistricting commission, which he claimed Democrats were “successful in subverting” through the selection of an independent chairwoman who was “somewhat less than forthcoming about her ties to the Democrats.” Hofeller fretted that it could cost the GOP two seats in Congress and weaken its hold on the legislature, “all a result of Arizona’s GOP stakeholders being ‘asleep at the switch’ during part of the process selecting the members of the commission.”

And in Nevada, they write, “The ability to gain control of the state senate, better numbers in the Assembly including sustaining vetos, and one and a half GOP congressional seat are at stake. This case is chronically underfunded on the GOP side.” Divided political control in Minnesota created a deadlock over maps which landed in the courts, and the memo warns that “newly-won legislative majorities are at stake and the Democrats have sent in their ‘A Team.’” A spreadsheet called “Redistricting Legal A” lays out a more than $9 million litigation budget for 2011, including fees for Hofeller and Oldham. It breaks down the needs state by state and offers a narrative that includes insights into GOP strategies.

While Republicans have described the Democratic litigation this decade as “sue until blue,” this document shows that the GOP also considered litigation over what they saw as unfriendly maps in Kentucky and Illinois. In Illinois, “Section 2 litigation may be only hope of challenging Dem plans if they eliminate or reduce minority districts to strengthen white D seats,” the memo notes. In Georgia, “litigation would result in better state house map if deviations in D produced house map are as bad as 2000 cycle.”

By July 2013, Hofeller already had his eyes on the 2021 cycle and cautioned party leaders not to repeat mistakes of previous decades. In a memo addressed to to RNC counsel John Phillippe, Hofeller urged Republicans to begin collecting voter data and continue training mapmakers for the next round of redistricting.

A redistricting database, Hofeller reminded Phillippe, must be more detailed than the voter files candidates use to target potential supporters. “Redistricting data must be more comprehensive and accurate so that statistics derived from the data can hold up in court,” he wrote. “All the registration and election data must also be geographically matched to census geographic units — usually at the census block level. Once again, this is a more exacting standard than typically required for campaign use.”

The December 2014 memo that linked GOP redistricting and the Voting Rights Act also envisioned the Democratic response and the racial gerrymandering litigation that is still playing out in federal courts.

Democrats, according to the memo, would litigate against these maps by arguing that minority candidates could win without representing 50 percent of a district’s population, and instead would argue that minority voters could win a congressional seat with as little as 30 or 40 percent of the population in many states:

Subsequently, Democrats have turned to state and federal courts in an attempt to claw back their lost districts by trying to convince courts that majority-minority districts are not required by the Voting Rights Act.  Democrats are seeking to establish new law which will mandate minority voters the right to maximize their votes, as DEMOCRATS, by substituting “influence”, “crossover” and “coalition” districts with minority percentages in the 30s and 40s for majority-minority districts in excess of 50% minority populations.

In Alabama, the Democrats are even attempting to convince the United States Supreme Court that minority districts should be deliberately underpopulated to allow Democrat-rich minority voters to be spread out into neighboring districts to aid in the election of more white Democrat legislators and members of Congress.

He suggested that would be the next — and expensive — battleground.

“We must win or hold our own in this redistricting legal battle or the maps drawn in the next cycle (2021) will be considerable less favorable to the GOP. Like it or not the 2010 redistricting process is far from complete, and the Democrats would gleefully celebrate our abandonment of the battle field just as Obama abandoned our military gains in Iraq.”

“Redistricting is one of the most profitable and business like investments that the GOP can make. Even if it results in only the gain or preservation of one or two additional congressional seats for 10 years, it is more that worth this investment.”

Wait! Before you go on about your day, ask yourself: How likely is it that the story you just read would have been produced by a different news outlet if The Intercept hadn’t done it? Consider what the world of media would look like without The Intercept. Who would hold party elites accountable to the values they proclaim to have? How many covert wars, miscarriages of justice, and dystopian technologies would remain hidden if our reporters weren’t on the beat? The kind of reporting we do is essential to democracy, but it is not easy, cheap, or profitable. The Intercept is an independent nonprofit news outlet. We don’t have ads, so we depend on our members — 35,000 and counting — to help us hold the powerful to account. Joining is simple and doesn’t need to cost a lot: You can become a sustaining member for as little as $3 or $5 a month. That’s all it takes to support the journalism you rely on.Become a Member 

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David Daley@davedaley3

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Additional Reporting: Lee Fang.
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GOP Racial Gerrymandering Mastermind Participated in Redistricting in More States Than Previously Known, Files Reveal

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The reach of late Republican gerrymandering mastermind Thomas Hofeller may be longer than previously known, according to a review of thousands of documents and emails culled from his hard drives, obtained by The Intercept. While Hofeller was known for drawing maps to give Republicans an advantage and to limit the impact of voters of color in North Carolina, Texas, Missouri, and Virginia, the new documents reveal he also participated in the 2010 redistricting cycle in Alabama, Florida, and West Virginia.

And, in those three states, it appears Hofeller and other Republican mapmakers experimented with using race as the primary factor in drawing districts in these states — a tactic ruled unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, which requires that people in similar circumstances be treated the same under the law. Among the trove of over 70,000 documents are draft maps with voter data broken down by race, spreadsheets that include the home addresses of members of Congress, travel plans, and legislation marked up by Hofeller himself.

Hofeller’s files reveal the sophisticated racial data that drove GOP mapmaking in several states, potentially opening new avenues for litigation.

These new documents shed additional light on the coordinated national strategy behind maps that locked in a GOP advantage in Congress and in state legislatures nationwide. They reveal the sophisticated racial data that drove GOP mapmaking in several states, potentially opening new avenues for litigation challenging these plans as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders — including one Alabama case that will be heard in a U.S. district court in seven weeks — or as violations of state constitutional protections of free and fair elections. And they show that Hofeller intentionally failed to disclose his involvement in Florida redistricting in an affidavit filed with a court.

Taken together, these revelations provide a powerful wake-up call ahead of the next round of redistricting, which will begin in 2021, about how determined and effective strategists, armed with voluminous voter data, can tilt the political playing field for a decade.


In Alabama, meanwhile, files from backups of Hofeller’s hard drives reveal that he was involved in the 2010 redistricting cycle from the very beginning, long before the first district was drawn.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Alabama state legislative maps as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander in 2015, finding that Republican legislators — in a signature Hofeller move — intentionally packed minority voters into as few districts as possible, creating a handful of overwhelmingly black districts and strengthening Republican prospects elsewhere. Hofeller’s involvement, however, was unknown.

Meanwhile, a potential racial gerrymander of the state’s congressional districts is still being litigated: A federal district court will hear arguments in Chestnut v. Jones beginning November 4.

Hofeller edited and advised on a document called the “Reapportionment Committee Guidelines for Legislative, State Board of Education, and Congressional Redistricting State of Alabama,” the legislature’s starting point for the 2011 redistricting.

According to Hofeller’s email, he met with and shared these edits with the chair of the Alabama state House redistricting commission, Rep. Jim McClendon. McClendon wrote and received these emails at his personal account and not an official legislative address. A document saved as “Guidelines with Tom’s further comments” includes his line-by-line edits and changes. Additional emails referencing these guidelines copied Hofeller’s partner, Dale Oldham, and another copied then-RNC general counsel and national committee member John Ryder.

A folder with the name “Alabama” includes a five-year estimate of citizen voting-age population, along with a document titled “Minority Districts in 2012 Alabama Legislative Redistricting.” Hofeller’s files also include a spreadsheet with information on Alabama citizenship estimates, broken down by race, as well as a link to census information saved in a Microsoft Word document with the name “Alabama 18 and older race link.”

The upcoming litigation, brought by eight Alabama voters, asserts that Republicans packed black voters into one congressional district, the 7th, and then effectively scattered the state’s remaining black voters in such small concentrations as to dilute their voting power. Hofeller’s involvement with McClendon, the racial data he collected — and his history of drawing maps in Virginia and North Carolina later found to be racial gerrymanders with precisely this pattern — could be relevant to ongoing questions and litigation about racially motivated gerrymandering.

The relevant documents are available here:

Inside Hofeller’s folder labeled “Alabama”:



In Florida, the documents raise questions about whether Hofeller intentionally failed to disclose his involvement with GOP redistricting operatives in a 2013 affidavit in which he attested he had no contact with GOP legislators or staff who drew that state’s maps.

Hofeller died in August 2018. But his willingness to avoid disclosing highly relevant information in this affidavit could affect the discovery process in other states where litigation is still pending, and where Hofeller may have been involved. And it creates the opportunity for legal teams in previous cases to petition courts to reopen discovery if the full extent of Hofeller’s participation was discoverable but not revealed.

That litigation, brought by the state’s League of Women Voters, alleged that Republican strategists drew partisan maps behind closed doors, then smuggled them into the public process, in violation of two state constitutional amendments mandating nonpartisan redistricting.

Hofeller’s affidavit, dated March 8, 2013, swears that, “To the best of my recollection, I have not been in contact, or exchanged data or maps, with any Florida legislators or members of their staffs, concerning Florida redistricting since the release of the Census Bureau’s 2010 Decennial Redistricting File in early 2011.”

According to an email chain between Hofeller and two top Florida GOP strategists, Hofeller flew to Tallahassee for meetings on October 10 and 11, 2011. The emails include Hofeller and Sunshine State operatives Frank Terraferma and Rich Heffley, and were sent to Hofeller at an address named “Tom Hofeller – redistricting.” Terraferma sent this email from his official Republican Party of Florida account, as the three strategists finalized travel details. Hofeller may not have been communicating directly with legislators, but he was meeting with the party officials who were actually drawing the maps and helping funnel them into the legislative process.

Hofeller may not have been communicating directly with legislators, but he was meeting with the party officials who were actually drawing the maps.

Evidence produced during the Florida trial showed that, in the same month, the two Republican consultants traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with veteran GOP election lawyer Ben Ginsberg, and days later, shared nearly completed state Senate maps. And during the last week of October, the consultants finalized the congressional maps, and then completed work on the state Senate maps by mid-November. Emails that came to light during the trial showed the operatives’ determination to use racial data to pack as many minority voters as they could into as few districts as possible.

And, in a newly surfaced email in May 2012, Terraferma sent Heffley, Hofeller, and others an email saying, “We got pre-cleared today BTW,” and linking to a Miami Herald article approving pre-clearance of redistricting maps. At the time, pre-clearance was required under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, where there was a history of voter discrimination. “This is very good news,” Hofeller wrote, forwarding the message on to other redistricting specialists at the RNC.

Hofeller’s files, meanwhile, include mapping software programmed with the addresses of Florida incumbents — as well as a spreadsheet from July 2011 named “Florida Minority Senate Data.” While the rows are not labeled, they appear to show minority voting strength across a dozen state Senate districts.

The final maps adopted by the legislature included several districts identical to ones drawn by Terraferma (that surfaced during the Florida trial), but submitted under the name of a former Republican Party intern, who later denied any knowledge of the maps. (Terraferma and Heffley did not respond to a request for comment but during testimony asserted they drew these maps as a “hobby.”) In 2014, a Florida circuit judge invalidated many of these districts, ruling that overwhelming circumstantial evidence demonstrated that GOP operatives had conducted a secret, shadow redistricting process in violation of the state constitution.

The relevant documents are available here:


West Virginia

Hofeller also possessed maps of the Charleston, West Virginia, metro area color-coded by race. One map shows the percentage of voting-age black citizens block by block. There has never been any previous indication that Hofeller was involved in drawing West Virginia maps.

“This would be beyond the pale,” said Rick Martin, president of the NAACP’s Charleston branch. “This is all a strategy designed to weaken and in many instances negate the vote of African Americans and also poor people.”

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David Daley@davedaley3

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