Who is Behind the Legal Challenge to Nonpartisan Redistricting in Michigan?

Hidden donors with apparent connections to corporate interests and Republican activists appear to be funding efforts to block a nonpartisan, anti-gerrymandering initiative.

Michigan is one of several states where democracy activists are pushing for nonpartisan redistricting reform this year. The citizen-led group Voters Not Politicians is working to put an initiative on the November 2018 ballot that will create an independent, citizen-led redistricting commission to draw fair voting maps. The proposal aims to end partisan gerrymandering and make the redistricting process more transparent and balanced for all voters.

Voters Not Politicians turned in 425,000 signatures from registered Michigan voters to the Secretary of State’s office in December 2017, well over the required 315,654 to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. Last week, a group calling itself “Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution” filed a suit to keep the initiative off the ballot.

So just who are these “Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution”?

Despite the name, Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution isn’t really led by everyday voters in Michigan. It’s funded mostly by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a corporate lobbying and advocacy group. Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution is also known for opposing several ballot measures focused on labor and climate change issues in the 2012 election, when it received significant funding from the Michigan Republican Party and groups connected the DeVos family, whose patriarch, Richard DeVos, founded Amway.

Perhaps most interesting, Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution’s April 2018 campaign finance report shows a new donor, “Fair Lines America,” which contributed $50,000 to Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution in April, the same month the lawsuit was filed.

And who is “Fair Lines America”?

On the surface, not much is known about Fair Lines America. The group hosted a workshop on redistricting at the December 2017 conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative, corporate lobbying group with a history advocating anti-voter legislation and strong ties to industrialists Charles and David Koch and their political network. Fair Lines America’s connection to ALEC gives it credentials within the conservative movement, but ALEC’s description of the workshop did not give any details on who they are.

A bit more digging reveals that the Alexandria, VA mailing address Fair Lines America listed on Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution’s campaign finance report, P.O. BOX 26141, matches the address used by several super PACs that paid for attack ads directed at Donald Trump in the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign. The PO Box and the ads were an issue in the 2016 Republican presidential primary and the super PACs were found to be affiliated with Trump foes Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina.

The PO Box also is connected to Christopher Marston, a Republican attorney, and his campaign finance compliance firm, Election CFO. Among the firm’s listed clients are several Republican members of Congress and political committees.

Fair Lines America also has Twitter account (@FairLinesUSA), although it has never tweeted. At this writing, the Twitter account has exactly one follower: the National Republican Redistricting Trust. This is a group set up by Republican officials to help the GOP in the 2021 redistricting process. According to a Politico article that announced the groups’ formation, the organization “will focus on data and legal efforts” to challenge Democrat-drawn districts. To completely conceal its donors, the National Republican Redistricting Trust is registered as a legal trust instead of a nonprofit or political action committee.

While partisan gerrymandering is wrong. regardless of the responsible party, it’s worth noting that the major arm of the Democratic-backed redistricting group that former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is leading, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, is registered as a political committee and will disclose its donors.

Even with all these layers of concealment peeled back, not much is known about Fair Lines America and the ultimate source of the $50,000 it provided to Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, the group challenging the redistricting ballot initiative in Michigan.

Based on what we do know about Fair Lines America: its involvement in ALEC, its attorney, and its sole Twitter follower, it is probably safe to say the group is an arm or affiliate of the National Republican Redistricting Trust and the GOP effort to protect their 2011 gerrymanders in key states like Michigan.

Michigan voters of all parties shouldn’t be fooled by this legal move, funded by a secret, out-of-state group. Instead, they should get involved with Voters Not Politicians and support the ballot initiative that will take the power of redistricting out of the hands of partisan politicians and give it to the people.