Emails reveal GOP consultant roles in drawing maps for Florida redistricting

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida — The role played by Republican consultants and political operatives in drawing up new legislative and congressional districts have been spelled out in hundreds of pages of emails that have been revealed.

The documents were supposed to be unsealed on Dec. 1 by the Florida Supreme Court, but they were obtained by media organizations, including The Associated Press, on Sunday. The contents of the documents were first published by the Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau.

A judge this summer ruled the GOP-controlled Legislature violated a voter-approved law that congressional districts cannot be drawn to favor incumbents or the member of any political party.

Judge Terry Lewis cited the documents, which were still under seal at the time, as one reason for his ruling. It was during that trial that legislative leaders maintained that outside consultants played no role in drawing districts that eventually were adopted by legislators.

But the documents spell out how Pat Bainter and his Gainesville-based firm Data Targeting as well as other consultants worked on maps to help incumbents, or to make sure minorities were in certain districts. For example, one email called for drawing up a district to help State Sen. John Thrasher since "he actually lives in Clay County." Thrasher, who recently resigned from the Senate to become Florida State University president, had a district that did not include Clay County.

The emails show the lengths that the consultants undertook to make sure that their plans would not show up in any public records.

"Just to ease your minds, I have tried to do most of the asking over the phone, so their (sic) is no e-mail trail if it gets forwarded," wrote consultant Jessica Corbett to Data Targeting employees adding later "I have stressed discretion to all."

The emails also outline a strategy to recruit people to submit maps publicly that were identical to the ones they were drawing up.

During the trial over the congressional maps last May, a Republican Party official testified that congressional maps he drew and turned over to a GOP consultant were identical to those submitted to the Legislature back in 2012 by Alex Posada.

It was during that trial, however, that Posada, a former Florida State University student and member of that school's College Republicans, denied in a deposition that he ever submitted those maps.

The documents also contradict Bainter's own initial deposition where he contended that he was not actively involved in redistricting and he had an "after the fact interest."

Bainter and his firm fought to block the release of the documents, arguing it would violate his First Amendment rights and reveal trade secrets. The state Supreme Court unanimously ruled to release them. On Friday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas turned down an emergency petition to block their release.

In a statement, Bainter decried the decision and said "unsealing my personal documents further undermines the constitutional rights of any citizen who dares participate in democracy."

Voters in 2010 passed the "Fair Districts" amendments. The League of Women Voters of Florida and other groups that sued contended that the congressional map adopted in 2012 violated these new standards. Lewis ruled in July there was enough evidence to show that consultants helped manipulate the process and ruled that two districts were invalid.

Legislators in August adopted a new map that altered seven of the state's existing 27 districts and shifts nearly 400,000 voters in central and north Florida. Lewis signed off on the new map, but the groups have appealed that decision. The state Supreme Court is scheduled to take up the case next spring.


Follow Gary Fineout on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fineout


Information from: Naples (Fla.) Daily News, http://www.naplesnews.com

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