A top-tier GOP redistricting expert is being paid with public dollars to draw new districts that will give an advantage to Republicans.
Tom Hofeller was Redistricting Chairman for the Republican National Committee from the 1980s through the early 2000s. He’s now a mapping consultant, one of the top experts in the political arena.
State Senate Redistricting Chairman Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, confirmed today Hofeller is being paid through the General Assembly’s budget. Rucho said the payments will go through the law firm they’ve hired, charged to the state as an expense. “That’s how it’s done,” Rucho said.
Unless the attorneys send lawmakers a detailed bill with Hofeller’s contract broken out, it may never be known how much tax money was spent on it.
Rucho was quick to point out that Democrats are benefiting from taxpayer money, too. He says $64,000 has been allocated to the Legislative Black Caucus for attorneys and expenses to draw their own set of maps. “We never got that,” Rucho said of the GOP.
He said $32,000 has been spent to date, but the Legislative Black Caucus has yet to produce a map. “What did the people get?” he asked.
Dems in 2001
During the last redistricting cycle in 2001, Democrats were in charge. They hired political consultant Kevin LeCount to manage their legislative redistricting efforts.
LeCount estimates he was paid about $102,000 for 17 months of work, averaging around $6,000 a month. But taxpayers didn’t foot the bill.
LeCount says Democratic leaders at the time set up a special party-related organization to raise money to pay for his services. He said the DCCC contributed some of the funding for his work, too. But he said national party leaders were not involved in drawing the maps.
“They gave no advice on what this or that district should look like,” LeCount said, even at the congressional level.
LeCount said he did have a small contract with the General Assembly in 2004, when the maps he helped draw were headed to DC for pre-clearance for the third time. Democrats hired outside legal counsel to manage the process, and LeCount said he was paid about $3000 in public money to explain the maps to the attorneys who would defend it.
Party or public?
So who should pay for redistricting help?
Redistricting expert Tim Storey with the National Conference of State Legislatures isn’t sure there's any “norm” for how other legislatures pay their mapmaking help. That’s partly because states have such a wide variety of redistricting processes.
“It’s not uncommon for states to use outside consultants and legal counsel,” Storey said, but he said NCSL has never taken a survey to see who pays for them.
NC Center for Voter Education director Damon Circosta wants to see the state move to a nonpartisan redistricting process. He says this is one more reason lawmakers should consider it for the next cycle in 2020.
“Partisan gerrymandering is never good for voters,” he said. “But even in the partisan system that we’ve got, there should be some modicum of restraint. When you hire somebody like this, you’re saying, ‘We’re after partisan advantage, and that’s our first and foremost priority’.”
And Circosta doesn't think taxpayers should have to bankroll that priority.
“If the goal of hiring an expert is to achieve partisan advantage, and not fair and legal maps, then it shouldn’t be publicly paid for,” Circosta said.