Redistricting Decision May Trigger New Fundraising


Look for new infusions of federal money into state politics following the Supreme Court’s decision this week on the Texas redistricting case. Though the justices did roll back the borders of one district that unfairly diluted the power of Hispanic voters, they upheld – by a decisive 7-2 vote – the right of states to redraw their congressional district boundaries any time they want, rather than only once after each new census.

If I were a party chairman in one of the states that has a close balance of power in the state legislature, I’d have been on the phone to Washington within minutes after the decision, noodling with federal party officials over how to turn this decision into a serious fundraising opportunity.

I’m surprised this hasn’t gotten more attention already, and I can guarantee it will get more after this year’s elections are finished – especially if the balance of power changes hands in any state legislatures. The temptation for a middle-of-the-decade redistricting is going to be too much for some states to resist.

Indeed, the liberal Daily Kos ran a story yesterday – Time for some Dem-friendly redistricting – suggesting it’s time for the Democrats to pick up a hint from Tom DeLay and the Republicans and start looking to redraw some maps. They quote from a thoughtful report by Kiplinger Forecasts, and since that report summarizes the situation nicely, I’ll do the same:

Look for several states to rejigger congressional districts in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 7-2 ruling upholding the Texas legislature’s 2003 decision to draw a new map. The Court made it clear that states can rewrite boundaries whenever they want, not just after the Census every 10 years. That means the congressional landscape in Washington can change every time one party gains control over a state’s government. Although the Supreme Court’s decision is a big victory for Republicans, and specifically for former Senate Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, who engineered the redistricting, redistricting by other states may have the GOP ruing the day.

New maps may well put more Democrats in the House of Representatives, possibly enough to tip the balance of power from Republicans to Democrats. We expect Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey and New York to wind up with Democrats in control of both the governor’s mansion and the state legislature after the November elections. So redistricting in those states might shift enough seats to the Democratic column to give that party a majority. The elections could also put the Democratic Party in the driver’s seat in Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, though it’s not clear that a majority of state lawmakers would want to undertake redrawing the boundaries of congressional districts. Only three states, Georgia, Indiana and Missouri, could potentially add Republican districts.

Members of the House of Representatives, not surprisingly, have a serious fixation on the subject of district boundaries. Almost nothing else has so direct an impact on their own reelection plans. So much so, in fact, that during the 2001-2002 election cycle – the first one after the official 2000 census – many House members made contributions out of their campaign funds to state lawmakers whose job it was to redraw the boundaries.

When reapportionment was a once-a-decade affair, these contributions only spiked after the census. With the new rules, there’ll be a whole new motivation for members of Congress to develop ongoing friendly relations with the line-drawers in the state capital. And as every lawmaker knows, the quickest way to a politician’s heart is through their pocketbook.

They’ll also have a motivation – now stronger than ever – to pay close attention to the balance of party power in their home state legislatures. If it tips, the chain reaction can now lead to a redrawing of congressional district boundaries. So members of the U.S. House now have ample reason to tithe a portion of their campaign war chests to their party colleagues back home.

Maybe the chances of all this happening are overblown, but I don’t think so. In the more than 20 years that I’ve been tracking money in politics, I’ve never yet seen an opportunity for new fundraising that wasn’t taken. Whenever something happens in Congress or the courts that jiggers the rules of the game in elections, there is always a reaction among the political professionals whose business it is to win. This one’s a doozy, and it’s going to make the “permanent campaign” and the never-ending push for more campaign dollars stronger than ever.