Who would you rather redraw your voting districts: Politicians, powerful special interests, or corporations? How about the Koch brothers? It’s a tough call, but don’t worry, the decision is already being made for you.
A new report out from ProPublica says that corporations, unions and other special interests are bankrolling civic-named organizations like The Center for a Better New Jersey, and Fair Districts Mass. Protect Your Vote. The goal? Redraw the political borders so that come election time, their favorite candidates win with the least amount of resistance. From ProPublica:
“Skillful redistricting can, of course, help create Republican or Democratic districts, but it can also grace incumbents with virtually guaranteed re-election or leave them with nearly no chance at all. In the process, it can also create seats almost certain to be held by minorities or break those same groups apart, ensuring that they have almost no voice.
But it’s not cheap, and that’s where corporations and other outside interests come in. They can provide the cash for voter data, mapping consultants and lobbyists to influence state legislators, who are in charge of redistricting in most states. Outside interests can also fund the inevitable lawsuits that contest nearly every state’s redistricting plan after it is unveiled.”
The first in a series on redistricting and the 2012 elections, the report gives examples like Minnesota’s group Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting. The group describes itself as independent. But who’s heading the group –and who is paying its bills– show common threads with Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, funded by conservative billionaires the Koch brothers. Both Fair Redistricting and the Freedom Foundation’s tax filings have the same address, that of husband and wife Jack and Annette Meeks. Fair Districting is registered under the name of Jack, who is on the board of the Freedom Foundation — where wife Annette is the head.
In Massachusetts, Fair Districts Mass says its goal is helping minorities in the Boston area find better representation. But the group’s funding –which can include unlimited donations from corporations– doesn’t need to be detailed under current law. Perhaps more interesting: Minority groups say new districting maps proposed by Fair Districts Mass won’t actually help minorities at all.
It’s happening all over the national and political map. In California, unions are trying to use similar methods to help their preferred candidates. Florida Rep Corrine Brown, a Democrat, represents one of the most strangely-shaped districts in the state –the result of a deal with other legislators to scoop out African-American communities that would support her, while removing them from challenging candidates in other more conservative districts.
Meanwhile in Texas, a redistricting map signed into law by Gov Rick Perry is under new scrutiny from the Department of Justice, for what the DOJ says is purposefully disenfranchising minority voters.
The fact that Tom DeLay and the Republicans down in Texas forced a redistricting in a year not associated with the Census, consequently forcing a shift of political power to the Republicans, should tell you a lot about how redistricting is used, who uses it and who benefits.
What we should want to know is what happens to residents in a state that has had its districts redrawn by powerful special interests and their proxies. Everyone whose state faces redistricting by corporate and wealthy interests should review this website –and the downloadable document there– for a glimpse of their own future: texaslsg.org/texasonthebrink/
A quote that sufficiently summarizes what the special interests can do to you with redistricting is: “In Texas today, the American dream is distant.”
It’s always been assumed that moves to change/retain districting are politically-motivated and driven by special interests, but this is the first time we have detailed proof.
The problem is, how do you fix something like this? How do you prevent someone from trying to manipulate the vote? Are human beings just not civilized enough, enlightened enough to appreciate and work with the liberations and the restrictions of democracy?
Do we need more representation? The 435 seats in the House of Representatives is completely artificial (interestingly, the number was settled upon in 1910 to resolve a districting dispute). Maybe it’s time to give the House back to the People by quadrupling the size of the House. Perhaps then, these “hidden hands” whould have little to “redistrict,” and almost every minority would have true representation, which is what a represenattive government is all about. And this will be a whole lot cheaper than what we pay for now in unethical laws and regulations.
But are more politicians necessarily better? Who’s to say how many “representatives” max out the credit lines of the special interests?
In an age of cheap persistent communication, perhaps “districts” as geographical entities are past their prime. Imagine instead forming a district with a couple hundred thousand of your closest friends and selecting a representative from the group. In a scenario like that, only the voters have control over districts and special interests are themselves stranded in groups of people who already support them.
Or is that just another kind of political party to be subverted?
Perhaps computers can do the job of redistricting with the inputs of county and municipal boundaries, Census data, and the number of Representatives allocated to that state.
Another possibility: Should we consider whether to reevaluate the concept of state and national “capitals”? They no longer serve the interests of the People. When originally created, it was to provide our public “servants” with a place where they could gather to discuss proposed legislation. That requirement is obsolete, thanks to technology; now, the thing state and national capitals do best is concentrate access to political representation, sort of a one-stop shopping trip for those seeking to buy and pay for elected officials. And concentrating politicians in “capitals” enables another factor to work: Corruption is subject to peer pressure just like certain habits and behaviors can be to a juvenile; people succumb to “everybody is doing it” if they’re not properly supervised, and if an elected official is too often too far from his district for representatives.
Maybe Washington (and many state capitals) can’t be fixed; but by breaking it down, we move Congress back home, back to whom they presumably represent. There’s no technological barrier to having every member of Congress vote from their homes or a neighborhood office where their neighbors can see (and report) when the bagmen of the wealthy and the corporations deliver their promises of riches in the legal but heinous forms of “speaking fees” and symbolic corporate positions after they leave office.
Without capitals, politicians would be isolated from the behavior of their political peers, from the words and offers of those who are already corrupt, but not from analyzing and discussing proposed legislation; video conferencing is all they need to interact. Think of how much honesty would contaminate our political system were every word and bargain recorded. (Yes, contaminate, since honesty is apparently now the exception.)
10,000 Representatives using technology to discuss something and form an opinion and then vote on that subject is a piece of cake… if we eliminate the idea that they all have to be in the same place to do it. And who says they couldn’t do it? Facebook, for instance, currently manages 750 million users.
And think of the influence on lobbyists, should they have to make their deals publicly rather than in the dark of Congressional offices and the clubs and restaurants of Washington. Think of how much better our representatives and Senators might be able to remember their jobs…the faces of who they are supposed to be representing if they lunched with their constituents at the neighborhood’s corner diner rather than with some of the wealthiest people in the world in the expensive –and intentionally private– restaurants of Washington.
Does that mean buying and selling still couldn’t happen? Sure, but at least it would make corrupting our political system increasingly –perhaps even prohibitively– expensive. The way things stand now, any one of our multinational corporations, banks, or Wall Street brokerages can afford to buy all of our Representatives.
On the other hand, are there problems with security and transparency? Such a system (even just for representatives) is easy to corrupt, isn’t it? Couldn’t a computer programmer easily build a voting system that reports whatever result one wants to see, while still making everybody think their vote was counted correctly. And the larger the population and the more separate, the easier it is to pull off a scam.
Of course, the simplest solution to the disgraceful buying and selling of elected representatives is to stop the money. No money, no influence. No lobbyists, no PACs, no SuperPACs, no bundling. No money. Public funding for public office seekers. And real prison, in the general population real prison, for those who take money. But it’d take a lot of tar and feathers to get those currently in power to allow such a thing, since it directly attacks their authority and comfort.
Policy ideas may ignite the vigorous debates in our electorate but the underlying sense in all that debate is s deep distrust of elected officials, so maybe our focus should be on seeking ways to reduce the mistrust and increase the trust. Any method that makes our political system more resistant to the current bought-and-paid-for liquidity –including increasing the cost of corrupting the system by increasing the numbers of politicians– seems like a heckuva good idea.
This isn’t just a battle over regulations, taxes, wealth, “class warfare” and representation; this is a battle for the continued existence of democracy that is the very concept of America. If the American concept of all men are created equal is replaced by wealth determines influence, status, value, and even individual longevity, then America is gone, too. We’ll either just disintegrate or be picked like an overripe fruit by some more cohesive and farsighted nation.