Party Strategists Ramp Up for Redistricting

By CQ Politics, CQ Politics - March 29, 2010

While Republicans and Democrats battle for the upper hand in selling the recently enacted health care bill, party operatives on both sides are solidifying their strategies behind the scenes for the upcoming redistricting fight that will have an impact on congressional politics for the next decade.

Democrats are making a change at the top of one of their key groups, the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, since Executive DirectorBrian Smoot is leaving his post to run the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's independent expenditure effort.

"I will be working with the trustees to identify a new director to ensure a smooth and seamless transition," Smoot said. A decision on his replacement is expected soon.

The next round of reapportionment and redistricting will be the first since the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which eliminated soft money and therefore is expected to severely limit members' involvement in the process.

The parties are forced to use hard dollars or rely on outside groups without member involvement. But the trust asked the Federal Election Commission for an advisory opinion to clarify members' roles in certain redistricting activities.

"The Trust seeks to confirm that members of Congress may solicit funds for the Trust outside the limits and source restrictions prescribed by the Federal Election Campaign Act," according to the Feb. 19 letter signed by Marc Elias of Perkins Coie on behalf of the trust. "[S]uch solicitations are not intended to influence any federal or non-federal election and will not advocate the election or defeat of any candidate for office."

"An advisory opinion is a shield, not a sword," Elias explained in an interview about potential FEC complaints filed by opponents in the future.

Even though redistricting is an inherently political task, Democrats want the FEC to continue to differentiate between legal activity and electioneering.

Republicans are anxiously awaiting the opinion as well. "Everyone wants to see what [the FEC] says," explained one GOP operative.

"I'm very interested," laughed prominent GOP attorney Mark Braden, who is working with Making America's Promise Secure (MAPS). Depending on how the FEC crafts its response to the trust, it could allow MAPS, a 501(c)(4) that is coordinating the legal and data aspects of redistricting for Republicans, to raise money with members' help as well.

A favorable or neutral opinion from the FEC wouldn't change the strategy for the trust or MAPS, but it could ease the fundraising lift. The FEC has 60 days from reciept of the letter, in mid-February, to respond.

Overall, the trust is just one part of the Democrats' three-legged redistricting stool. The trust handles the legal component while Foundation for the Future, a 527, handles the data and analytical component in preparation for drawing the maps. But the political and electoral element is critical, too.

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