National Democratic group pumps $250K into Michigan redistricting campaign

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Former Attorney General Eric Holder

A national Democratic redistricting reform group headed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is pumping $250,000 into a Michigan ballot campaign to create a citizen commission for redrawing political district boundaries.

The National Redistricting Action Fund, a non-profit affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, announced the contribution Wednesday.

Michigan is among the majority of states that allow politicians to draw legislative and congressional maps every decade, a process that has been controlled by Republicans during the past two cycles.

The system allows “partisan gerrymandering” that “leads to dysfunction, polarization, and the legitimate belief held by average Americans that, for them, our political system just does not work,” said Holder, who worked for Democratic President Barack Obama.

“Regardless of party affiliation, that’s not good for our democracy,” he said in a statement. “Maps that are drawn by a truly independent commission will help put men and women into government who are more responsive to the people they are supposed to represent."

The national funding could be a significant boost for the Michigan group, which used a grassroots volunteer network to collect petition signatures but has since added paid campaign infrastructure. Voters Not Politicians had $616,169 in cash reserves as of July 20, according to its latest campaign finance report.

The contribution from the Democratic group also opened the group to criticism from the Michigan Republican Party and allies who have argued the group is a front for Democratic Party interests.

"Obama Democrat puts hundreds of thousands of dollars into ballot initiative meant to draw and gerrymander lines to be more favorably for Democrats," Michigan Republican political consultant Stu Sandler tweeted Wednesday.

While several board members have contributed to Democrats in the past, the ballot committee has fought partisan claims by touting support from former GOP California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. Rep. Joe Joe Schwarz, who served as a Republican but is now an independent.

The Voters Not Politicians committee on Wednesday touted its grassroots support and thanked the national Democratic group for the contribution.

“Republicans, Democrats and independents agree that a transparent, citizen-driven, nonpartisan solution is needed to end the manipulation of voting maps for political gain,” Executive Director Katie Fahey said in a statement.

The proposal would create a commission including four  Democrats, four Republicans and five self-identified independents under a process overseen by the secretary of state.

A Sept. 5-7 poll conducted for The Detroit News and WDIV showed nearly one-third of voters did not know how they would vote on the proposed amendment to the state Constitution, suggesting an information gap challenge for organizers and activists and an opportunity for critics to attack the measure.

Roughly 38 percent of voters were supportive, 31 percent were opposed and 31 percent of remained undecided nine weeks from the election. 

“The real challenge is most voters don’t have any clue what it’s about,” said pollster Richard Czuba of the Glengariff Group. “There’s a third of voters who just have no clue what this is.”

Tony Daunt, executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, said his group opposes the measure and has been reaching out to grassroots activists. But as of now, opponents have not formed a coalition to fight the proposal.

"I think that there are various interests who are opposed to this and if a path develops for opposition would be happy to take that," he said, noting the Freedom Fund has criticized the proposed commission selection process, potential costs and exclusions for political workers that would extend to their families.