Michigan redistricting group gets $250,000 donation for fall ballot battle

Voters Not Politicians, the group supporting an independent, citizen-led redistricting commission in Michigan, has fielded allegations from conservatives that the commission would attempt to redraw lines in favor of Democrats. (Bridge photo by Riley Beggin)

Nov. 7 update: One woman’s Facebook post leads to Michigan vote against gerrymandering

A national Democratic redistricting group headed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has thrown its support behind Michigan’s proposal to create a citizens commission responsible for drawing district lines, giving the Michigan ballot effort a $250,000 donation.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), which is being promoted by former President Barack Obama and is working to end political gerrymandering in state legislative districts while also putting more state and Congressional districts within reach of Democratic candidates, announced the contribution to Voters Not Politicians on Wednesday.

“Voters Not Politicians is proof that citizen-led movements can shape the fate of our democracy and that the people can take power back from politicians and truly control their destiny,” Holder said in a statement.

State legislators currently have control over the redistricting process after every decennial U.S. Census. Michigan, which has been controlled by Republicans for the past decade, has been identified as one of the most gerrymandered in the nation. The VNP proposal ‒ also known as Proposal 2 ‒ would create a citizens commission comprised of four Democrats, four Republicans and five Independants to draw the lines instead.

Conservative opponents to the VNP proposal have raised concerns that it is largely supported by Democrats and (while cloaked in nonpartisan language) is really intended to work to Democrats’ benefit.

“This contribution reinforces the obvious connection between VNP and the Democrats,” Tony Daunt, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, said of the NDRC funding. “It is clear that Proposal 2 is nothing more than a cynical power grab to create a system that benefits Democrats and the left.”

Patrick Rodenbush, spokesman for NDRC, said in an email to Bridge that “supporting an independent redistricting commission is not about left versus right or Democrats versus Republicans… We want fair maps.”

The donation is one of the largest Voters Not Politicians has received to date. Other top donors have included funds associated with the UAW, a Texas-based group founded by moderate Democrats and the Beckwith Constitutional Liberties Fund.

VNP also has cited support from former Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz (who is now an independent), Republican state Speaker of the House Rick Johnson and former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in pushing back on allegations that its sole cheerleaders are liberal.

“We welcome support from anyone who’s dedicated to passing Proposal 2,” said VNP spokeswoman Elizabeth Battiste. “We’re committed to being a nonpartisan campaign, that’s a main facet of our campaign.”

More than half of the Michigan group’s funding comes from thousands of individual donors scattered across the state — significantly more than any other initiative that has been in the race for the ballot this year.

The donation will be used for field organizing and ramping up the group’s information campaign this fall, said Battiste.
“The more people know about Proposal 2, the more likely they are to vote for it,” she said, citing a recent Detroit News and WDIV poll showing nearly a third of voters remain undecided about the initiative. The poll found that another 38 percent of voters supported it, while 31 percent were opposed.

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Kevin Grand
Wed, 09/12/2018 - 10:01pm

Say, didn't The Bridge knock VNP critics just a few days ago for bringing up a Pres B.O. connection?

Sounds like The Bridge needs to walk back their criticism of those against the "non-partasian" VNP.

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 5:37am

But...but...this is supposed to be a grassroots, non-partisan attempt at getting rid of gerrymandering, right? This has been a naked power grab from Day 1; Democrats can't formulate campaigns to win statewide elections anymore, so they go after the rules of the game

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 9:19am

I am a VNP volunteer who firmly believes Proposal 2 is nonpartisan. It does NOT favor Democrats - it is carefully crafted to avoid giving an advantage to either party. The current system favors whichever party in power. If Proposal 2 passes, it will establish a system where neither party can control redistricting to its own advantage. If anyone doubts this, they have only to read about it on the VNP website: https://www.votersnotpoliticians.com/thesolution
When people are well informed about the actual proposal, they nearly always support it.

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 3:14pm

The outright power grab was done by those in power in 2010. The preciseness of gerrymandering the districts in their favor is shown on the redistricted maps. The only way a democracy can work is the government be representative of all the people.
Michigan is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. Michigan's educational system has shown a steep decline in performance under this current administration. Michigan is one of the least transparent governments in the nation. Michigan ranks high in poverty levels. Michigan is one of the least healthy states in the nation not to mention what happened in Flint.
When the only way a party can "take all" is with gerrymandering, ALL CITIZENS should be concerned and get out to vote.

Ed Hill
Thu, 09/13/2018 - 10:15am

The fact that there would be 9 non Dems vs only 4 Dems on the new Commission proves this is not a Dem "power grab".

What IS a Republican obvious abusive power grab is the fact that in a state that is split politically 50-50, as proven that we have two Dem Federal Senators and a Republican Governor, there is a 9-5 Republican state supermajority Senate, 9-4 advantage in Michigan Congressional House members, and a 63-47 advantage in State House seats.

Those numbers ARE NOT representative of a state that supported a Republican for president by just 0.2%.

For Republicans against Prop 2, if not approved and then lose in 2020, you will have the same happen to you for 10 years beginning in the 2022 elections.

And worse for all, our broken polarized politics in this state will continue to elect people who would rather vote to what their donors tell them. Rather than what their constituents want.

Vote Yes on 2 to benefit common sense every day interests of Michigan. For political compromises to attain better roads, better schools for young people, and yes, just better government for ALL Michiganders!

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 10:06pm

And exactly how do you ascertain that someone is really an "independent"?

With the democrats now crawling out of the woodwork in support of this, that is one important question they never want to address.

If the odds arent stacked in their favor on tbis commission, this should be an easy question to address.

Bob Balwinski
Sun, 09/16/2018 - 8:00am

Well, Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous, I could supply my name and you could check the records of all political parties to see if I was ever a member. If, at age 72, you were to find that I have never, ever been a member of ANY political party, would that satisfy you that I am an Independent??

Kevin Grand
Sun, 09/16/2018 - 11:12am

Nice trick, Mr. Balwinski...if political party records were FOIA-able?

Or, if people didn't "renounce" their past party membership?

Replacing one form of gerrymandering with another form of gerrymandering because you don't like the outcome still does not solve the main problem of gerrymandering itself.

And when political winds shift in the future (and they do), then what?

Sun, 09/16/2018 - 5:25pm

Contributions to political parties and individual candidates must be reported to the Secretary of and are easily searched. In addition, each party gets 20 challenges at the final phase of the selection process, and no reason has to be given for why that party chose to disqualify the applicant.

Kevin Grand
Mon, 09/17/2018 - 11:24am

That sounds good on paper (and to political neophytes).

Now, why don't you tell me how many people contribute to politicians, not via direct contributions to their campaigns and/or political parties, but through 501 (c)(4) front groups?

Let everyone know how you intend to comb through THOSE records to find individual political leanings?

And trust me, if this passes (replacing gerrymandering with another form of gerrymandering to address the problem with gerrymandering...that'll convince people to vote "yes"), the democrats and republicans are going to burn through those 20 challenges toot sweet.

Barry Visel
Thu, 09/13/2018 - 10:21am

More outside influence in our election. If it isn’t Michigan money or Michigan citizens involved with this ballot question, then they should stay out of our elections. Sorry, but this is no different than other countries trying to influence our national elections. This money should be returned.

Sun, 09/16/2018 - 11:12am

The author should be concerned about who is funding the opposition. Ever heard of Enbridge? It has donated to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce AC, the leading funder of the opposition to Proposal 2. It's a Canadian corporation! More generally, what about the Koch Brothers??

Who is funding a particular cause or candidate shouldn't matter as much as what the cause or candidate stands for. Proposal 2 is good government, full stop. It restores the intent of Michigan's current (1963) constitution, which created a eight-member independent citizens commission consisting of four members of the two major political parties. It expressly excluded state legislators and government employees from serving on the commission, and barred commission members from running for state office in first election following approval of the new boundaries. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the composition of the board that appointed the citizens commission was unconstitutional, but the validity of having an appointed and independent citizens commission draw the boundaries is as legal today as it was in 1963.

Yi-Li Wu
Thu, 09/13/2018 - 10:26am

Proposal 2 creates a transparent and accountable system of redistricting with checks and balances to maximize impartiality and fairness. Its commissioners would come from all parts of the political spectrum: 4 commissioners from each of the two major parties (currently Democrats, Republicans) and 5 commissioners not affiliated with the majors. For any maps to be adopted, 2 commissioners from each of these groups would have to agree. Proposal 2 would also create a process in which the public could participate and offer their input at every step of the way, attending public hearings (10 hearings before any maps are even drawn, and 5 after maps are proposed) and by attending commission meetings (which are required to be public). All data, materials, and models that the commission uses to make its decisions must be placed on the public record.

Contrast this to the current system where the lines are drawn by the majority party who happens to be in power that year, all done behind closed doors. There is no public oversight, no accountability, and no checks and balances. Our MI legislators even refuse to make themselves subject to the Freedom of Information Act. This has allowed special interests and their favored politicians to manipulate maps to guarantee that they stay in power, even if they ignore the needs of voters. Now these manipulators are yelling "unfair" simply because people are demanding transparency and checks and balances. Michiganders deserve better than this kind of partisan fearmongering. People who sincerely care about the well-being of ordinary Michiganders will inform themselves about Proposal 2 and how it aims to make our system work for us the voters.

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 10:30am

The distortions and outright lies put out by opponents of Proposal 2 remind of a lesson a wise attorney taught me when I was just out of law school:
When the facts are against you, pound the law
When the law is against you, pound the facts,
When the facts AND the law are against you, pound the table.

Cadence Morton
Thu, 09/13/2018 - 1:21pm

That explains why Trump pounds the table so often!

Cadence Morton
Thu, 09/13/2018 - 1:18pm

This initiative is just a no brainer. No political party should have the opportunity to tip the balance in their favor by drawing district lines that benefit their party. We have a constitutional right to vote - gerrymandering by any party is an affront to that right by diluting our vote. I belive this even for Maryland, where the state is heavily gerrymandered to favor democrats. Any Republican who opposes fair districts does so because they know their party will lose an advantage and they'll have to compete on their values and not dirty tricks. This proposal just stops these unethical shannigans.

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 9:26am

How much has the Chamber of Commerce spent in fighting this ballot proposal? From everything I’ve read and seen, this initiative has been uniquely driven by thousands of unpaid volunteers and similarly small individual donations. This should be lauded by all Michiganders.