TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — The Florida Supreme Court released records Tuesday that gave more insight into an alleged plan by Republican political consultants to funnel maps through the public.
The effort itself is not a surprise; revelations at a redistricting trial about a map submitted under the name of former Florida State University student Alex Posada had already indicated some maps submitted through the Legislature’s system to gather public ideas were not drawn by the people whose names were attached to them.
But the records and testimony released Tuesday provide the clearest view yet of the breadth of the scheme and how the consultants tried to explain it away.
“The documents that these political operatives worked so hard to hide from the public, along with their testimony given in closed proceedings, reveal in great detail how they manipulated the public process to achieve their partisan objectives,” said David King, a lawyer for voting-rights organizations challenging the state’s congressional districts.
In the end, according to a brief filed with the Supreme Court by those fighting the districts, maps submitted under the names of at least seven individuals were cited as support or inspiration for the congressional and state Senate plans approved by the Legislature.
Because the groups’ brief relied on the secret documents, it was released Tuesday with the testimony of Pat Bainter, a Republican political consultant, and documents from Data Targeting, Inc., his consulting firm.
That brief is part of an ongoing challenge to the congressional maps and a related case against the state Senate map, filed by the voting-rights groups. The League of Women Voters of Florida and its allies have appealed to the Supreme Court a ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, who struck down the congressional map but approved a second draft by the Legislature. The coalition opposed to the map wants a more extensive makeover than the one approved by Lewis.
The case challenging the Senate plan has not gone to trial.
Bainter fought efforts to release the records, but the Supreme Court recently ruled that the records and Bainter’s closed testimony in the redistricting trial this past summer should be unsealed. After U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas rejected a last-ditch effort by Bainter to keep the documents secret and the records began leaking to the news media over the weekend, the Florida justices ordered them released Tuesday.
What appears clear from the testimony and documents is that Bainter and his allies inside and outside the firm drew maps that were then submitted under the names of members of the public beyond just Posada. The voting-rights groups have argued that the effort was intentionally aimed at undermining a constitutional ban on gerrymandering approved by voters in 2010.
“Thus, the operatives made it appear as though members of the public submitted the consultant drawn maps and provided input in the process, and the Legislature gave the outward appearance of public participation when it was in fact relying on partisan districts drawn by well-connected Republican operatives,” the brief says.
The map attributed to Posada — who said he didn’t draw it and didn’t authorize its submission — was the only one that the voting-rights groups say was used to help guide the drawing of the congressional map. But other maps submitted under the names of Christie Jones, Micah Ketchel, Andrew Ladd, Delena May, Alex Patton and Remzey Samarrai were used to guide the process of drawing the Senate maps, they say.
In one exchange with King, the lawyer, Bainter gave a more innocent explanation of how the maps ended up being submitted by everyday citizens.
“Well, we certainly had, again, a number of citizens out there that — that wanted to be involved,” Bainter said in the previously sealed testimony. “And, yeah, so we absolutely would — would give them the opportunity, if we had maps sitting around that — that could be submitted, it seemed like a good idea to do that.”
Later, alluding to three other Republican operatives, King asked Bainter: “Did Mr. Reichelderfer and Mr. Heffley and Mr. Terraferma understand that you were going to find citizens to sign — to send maps in to the Legislature?”
“Again, I — the mischaracterization needs to be cleared up,” Bainter replied. “I think they certainly knew that — that we had a broad network of grassroots folks that wanted to participate in the process, and, you know, to that end seemed like, again, a really good idea to be able to allow those citizens the opportunity to participate.”
Alachua County Republican Party Chairman Stafford Jones emerges in the testimony and documents as a key figure in the process. He appears to be the one who arranged for citizens to submit maps from the consultants.
“Stafford getting me 10 more people at least,” Bainter wrote in an email to two employees on Oct. 11, 2011. “We could start by submitting the map marc (sic) had sent us.”
Bainter said during his testimony that he was referring to Jones and, he believes, political consultant Marc Reichelderfer.
King and Bainter clashed over how to define Jones’ role in the process.
“And (Jones) was the fellow that was rounding up the people to file your maps; isn’t that right?” King asked.
“I think I would resent the term ’rounding up,’ ” Bainter responded. “But he certainly was talking to other citizens, yes.”
“And he was getting other citizens to be willing to sign — to put their name on your maps; correct?” King asked.
“I don’t know what Stafford was — I don’t — again, you’re — I don’t know that, no,” Bainter replied.
In his July ruling striking down two of the congressional districts, Lewis said some of the sealed evidence was vital to the coalition proving its case.
“What this additional evidence gave the plaintiffs was the ability to confront these denials, to lay bear not only the fact that some of these consultants were submitting maps to the Legislature, but to show how extensive and organized that effort was, and what lengths they went to in order to conceal what they were doing,” he said. “Notably, even in the face of this evidence, the non party witnesses at trial did their best to evade answering direct questions on the subject, often using semantic distinctions to avoid admitting what they had done.”