Journalism in the Public Interest

In Nevada, Opaque Groups Square Off Over Redistricting

Who funded the legal battles over Nevada’s redistricting? Voters may never know.


Nevada Assembly Democrats James Ohrenschall, left, and Richard Daly look at redistricting maps before a work session on May 17, 2011. A Carson City judge approved final maps drawn by a court-appointed panel of "special masters" two weeks ago. (Cathleen Allison/AP Photo)

As redistricting efforts continue across the country, money from unions, corporations and other special interests is clearly having an impact — even when the redistricting process is taken out of partisan hands.

After Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, repeatedly vetoed redistricting maps created by the Democratic-controlled state legislature, a Carson City judge appointed a three-member panel of experts to draw new district maps.

But as the Las Vegas Sun reported, that didn't mean special interests were locked out of the process.

The Democratic legal efforts over redistricting were funded by a combination of state party money and funds from the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, the Sun reported. The trust, created by the national Democratic Party to fund redistricting suits, can accept unlimited money and does not have to disclose its donors.

Republican efforts were paid for, in part, by the Fund for Nevada's Future, a nonprofit group that also has no limits or disclosure requirements on its fundraising.

As we detailed earlier this year in "The Hidden Hands in Redistricting," such opaque groups can channel huge amounts of special-interest money into efforts to create districts that favor certain candidates — or convince others not to bother running.

While the final maps drawn by the court-appointed panel in Nevada were seen as largely favoring Democratic interests, the Republican legal team did persuade the judge overseeing the process to make a few tweaks in district lines. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported, these changed the shape of one Republican state senator's district and slightly reduced the proportion of registered Democratic versus Republican voters in several other state legislative districts.

Legal challenges against the maps must be filed in the next month. As the Las Vegas Sun noted, voters may never find out who paid for these redistricting efforts, or the lawsuits that may follow.

Because redistricting takes place only once a decade, a favorably drawn district can help a politician stay in office for 10 years, while a donation to a legislator's campaign chest will only help for a single election cycle.

"Redistricting has far more impact than support of any one candidate, dollar for dollar," Massachusetts redistricting expert Daniel Winslow told us.

But thanks to a 2010 Federal Election Commission ruling, the efforts of redistricting groups are not considered to be "in connection" with particular elections — a ruling, secured by the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, that gave members of Congress explicit permission to raise money for redistricting without being subject to campaign-finance limits or disclosures.

Following this ruling, we've documented the rise of opaque redistricting groups in Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota and California. Nevada is another example.

While congresspeople who raise money for the National Democratic Redistricting Trust and similar groups trust must seek permission from the House Ethics Committee to do so, these requests are confidential. Politico, reporting on the process this spring, identified two congresspeople who had received this permission: California Rep. Mike Thompson and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

And while the Fund for Nevada's Future, which actively solicits donations on its website, does not have to disclose its donors, consultant Mike Slanker, the Fund's director and treasurer, told the Sun that the Fund also has an affiliated political action committee, which is subject to campaign disclosure rules.

Slanker did not respond to requests for comment. Matthew Griffin, a Nevada attorney involved with the Democratic redistricting efforts, said he could not comment at this point in the process.

In an interview with ProPublica, Mark Hutchison, a Nevada lawyer representing Republican interests, called his redistricting efforts "a labor of love" and said he was being compensated at a low rate.

Barry Schmittou

Nov. 9, 2011, 3:18 p.m.

Can the Democrat’s Trust and the Republicans Non Profit Group accept contributions from foreign nations since they have “no limits or disclosure requirements on fundraising” ?

Barry Schmittou

Nov. 9, 2011, 4:15 p.m.

The contributors to the redistricting efforts are known by the political party leaders, but remain unknown and/or hidden from America’s citizens. This is one more example of a Shadow Government that cannot be monitored.

The hidden contributions are extremely important as evidenced by ProPublica’s Ms. Beckett’s quote :

“Redistricting has far more impact than support of any one candidate, dollar for dollar,” Massachusetts redistricting expert Daniel Winslow told us”

Barry, your comment brought to mind an interesting point.  It’s “just politics” when someone discovers that one of these companies is pushing a Republican or Democrat agenda.  But the outcry would be amazing if it was a Chinese or Arab agenda, or even Microsoft’s agenda.  And yet, donations are hidden and unlimited, meaning nobody can tell one from the other except by their claims.

You’re also absolutely right.  There’s something seriously wrong with a U.S. government that puts itself (and its manipulators) before the American people.  That goes for redistricting to preserve incumbency to restrictions on civil liberties (from free speech to weapon ownership) to competing “continuity of government” programs.

Beverlee Anne Couillard

Nov. 10, 2011, 12:26 p.m.

This governement no longer serves the needs of the people, but the needs of the politicians.  Until we get the money out of elections, and have public funded elections, there will be no government for/by/of the people again.
  As far as I am concerned, we are now The Corporate States of America. 
  Voting is becoming just something those in power have to put up with now, and the move across the nation to control who can vote is just one more example of the elite trying to control the rest of us.

Beverlee Anne Couillard

Nov. 10, 2011, 12:29 p.m.

I forgot to say, I live in Las Vegas, Nevada, and we have one of the worst state legislatures in the country.  We have monumental problems, and each session they just keep on kicking the can down the road to the next session ad infinitum.  Do Nothing describes them well.

Barry Schmittou

Nov. 10, 2011, 12:35 p.m.


Thank you !! I always learn from your comments. I wish Patriotic Americans like you were in charge in Washington and the State houses, then we could quickly seek the end of complex blockades of justice and concern for all life !!

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Redistricting: How Powerful Interests Are Drawing You Out of a Vote

How secret money and power interests are drawing you out of a vote.

The Story So Far

Redistricting should be a way of ensuring your vote counts. If all districts have roughly the same number of people in them and are drawn to respect natural communities—neighborhoods where people share a heritage, work in the same industry, or just generally feel tied to their neighbors—voters have a chance to be represented by politicians who represent their areas’ collective interests.

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