Records show Cannon aide gave redistricting maps to GOP operative before the public

Aaron Deslatte | Orlando Sentinel | 06/20/2013

TALLAHASSEE — New records in a court fight over Florida's re-drawn congressional and legislative maps show an aide to former House Speaker Dean Cannon released congressional maps to a Republican operative two weeks before they were made public.

The records, a May deposition of GOP political consultant Marc Reichelderfer along with emails from Cannon aide Kirk Pepper to Reichelderfer in late 2011, are being used by Fair Districts supporters in a legal battle over whether ruling Republican legislators followed the 2010 anti-gerrymandering reforms when they drew the maps.

The Fair Districts groups, including the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause, argue they still drew the maps to favor Republican candidates and are pressing two lawsuits to pry more emails and testimony out of party consultants, legislators and staff.

The Legislature, along with consultants Pat Bainter, and his associates at Gainesville-based Data Targeting Inc., are fighting the attempts to gather evidence about how deeply they coordinated in the redistricting process last year.

The constitutional amendments passed by nearly 63 percent of voters prohibit legislators from re-drawing districts to intentionally help or hurt incumbents or parties.

The new records released Thursday show Pepper forwarded copies of seven draft congressional maps to an electronic drop-box for Reichelderfer in late November 2011 — two weeks before they were made available to the public.

"So your friend, Mr. Kirk Pepper, evidently sent you those seven maps something like two weeks before the general public ever saw them, right?" a Fair Districts lawyer asked Reichelderfer in the May deposition.

"According to these documents," he answered.

"And you got them for a reason, isn’t that right?" he asks

"I assume it was for a reason," Reichelderfer answers.

The lawyer later asks if the reason was to analyze their political performance.

"I could have done that, yes, sir," Reichelderfer responds.

The emails then show Cannon, Pepper and Reichelderfer engaged in a lengthy email exchange about the maps a few days later, still before the maps were released publicly.

A House redistricting staff director, Alex Kelly, informs Pepper of changes to what was then the congressional district of U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Orlando, to address "things the Speaker has said are important to him."

Pepper then forwarded the email to Reichelderfer.

"So you are being exposed to a discussion about how the congressional plan is being formed, right?" the lawyer asked Reichelderfer.

"Appears to be, yes, sir."

"But I thought that was something you weren’t supposed to be involved with?" the lawyer asks.

"I don’t know. The e-mail says that I am," Reichelderfer answers.

Fair Districts lawyers argue the evidence gathered already shows why the court should order lawmakers and consultants to hand over more records as well as give depositions under oath. An appeals court last month ruled lawmakers didn't have to testify in the challenge, but that decision has been appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

Cannon, Pepper and Reichelderfer did not respond to requests for comment.

Ironically, the Fair Districts filing is also an argument against the Florida House's attempts to get those voting-rights groups to turn over more of their own internal communications, which have shown the group's political consultants discussing whether to draw proposed maps that would help Democrats. Judge Lewis ruled Thursday that the Legislature could have access to some of those records when they directly related to proposed maps.

Last month, Judge Lewis held Data Targeting Inc. along with employees Bainter, Matt Mitchell, and Michael Sheehanin contempt of court for not producing thousands of pages of records. The firm has turned over some 1,800 pages of records, but they haven't been released publicly.

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