Plan to shroud the process in secrecy originated with national Republican officials
Columbus, Ohio - This morning, the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting (OCAR) released a comprehensive transparency report on Ohio's redistricting process. The independent group graded state officials a D minus on transparency.
The report, entitled "The Elephant in the Room," documents a number of backroom activities which had not been publicly disclosed, including:
- At the last minute the corporate headquarters of a major financial contributor was moved into Congressman's Jim Renacci's district at the request of the Speaker John Boehner's political team.
- Ohio Republican officials believed that they saved millions of dollars in future state legislative campaign expenditures by making many districts more safely Republican.
- Speaker Boehner's political team controlled the congressional mapmaking process. Senate President Thomas Niehaus committed to adopting a map which Boehner fully supported.
- Republican officials determined that the new congressional map would provide a 12 - 4 Republican advantage, with only the 14th District (LaTourette) being a possible swing district.
- $210,000 was secretly paid to two Republican staffers for working three months on redistricting maps.
- A downtown hotel room was rented for three months to use as a secret redistricting office.
- The plan to shroud the process in secrecy was recommended early on by a national Republican consultant who advised state officials in a series of secret meetings.
"We are trying to shine a light on what took place in the political backrooms, since very little took place in public," stated Jim Slagle, Manager of the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting.
The report was generated after reviewing thousands of pages of records obtained through public record requests. OCAR is a coalition of 25 Ohio organizations, led by the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Ohio Citizen Action, which has promoted public involvement in the congressional and legislative redistricting process.
The report also contains the following findings:
- Decisions were not made in public.
- Public input was ignored.
- The public had limited opportunity to review proposed maps.
- The public was not provided with relevant data for proposed districts.
- Nonpartisan redistricting criteria were not used.
- The criteria used to evaluate plans were never publicly identified.
State officials are still withholding various public records, as seven different record requests have still not been honored. For more than a month Democratic and Republican officials have exchanged possible maps to resolve the standoff over Ohio's congressional districts. However, House Speaker William Batchelder and Minority Leader Armond Budish have failed to release the maps which have been exchanged in private.
"If the politicians were creating districts which benefited the public, they wouldn't have anything to hide," Slagle stated. "Instead, we are seeing districts manipulated in the backrooms, so that the winning candidates can be determined before the votes are ever cast. Politicians are choosing their voters instead of the other way around."