ProPublica Ignores Worst Redistricting Lines

Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica published an investigative report Wednesday into how Democratic political operatives influenced California’s independent redistricting commission. National media outlets lavished praise on the piece, describing it as “explosive,” “startling” and “exceptionally researched.”

Charlie Mahtesian, national politics editor at Politico, tweeted, “Newsroom consensus: ProPublica piece on Calif is prob the single best piece of redistricting reporting all year.”

However, the ProPublica story ignored the most explosive allegations first uncovered by nearly six months ago. The exclusive series exposed the political activities, campaign contributions and special interest connections of two redistricting commissioners. Neither the commissioners nor the California State Auditor’s background checks revealed such political affiliations.

ProPublica’s story ties Democratic witnesses to the redistricting commission and connects the dots between a redistricting consultant and Democratic elected officials. The series did one better: it directly connected commissioners to Democratic political candidates, campaigns and organizations.

One redistricting commissioner, Dr. Gabino Aguirre, made several undisclosed campaign contributions to Democratic candidates. One contribution to Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, posted on the California Secretary of State’s website nine days after the California Bureau of State Audits completed its background report on Mr. Aguirre.

‘Favorable Democratic District’

The Ventura County Star, Williams’ hometown newspaper, reported on July 29, “Democratic Assemblyman Das Williams of Santa Barbara finds himself in a favorable Democratic district that includes Ventura, Ojai, Santa Paula and Fillmore.”

ProPublica also detailed how Democratic front groups shaped the commission’s mapping. first reported this fact in July and demonstrated an extensive relationship between a front group and Commissioner Gabino Aguirre. The Central Coast or Coastal Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy organized witness testimony, urged public comments, sent top personnel to testify before the commission and even proposed its own maps for California’s Central Coast.

Maricela Morales, CAUSE’s co-executive director, spoke on the same panel as Gabino Aguirre at the 2011 California State Conference of the League of United Latin American Citizens. Just five days after the LULAC Conference, Morales made a 25-minute presentation to the redistricting commission in which she presented the organization’s proposed maps for Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties. At no point during the presentation did she or Commissioner Aguirre disclose any prior connection.

Relationships Not Disclosed

Assemblyman Das Williams previously served as a legislative analyst to the Coastal Alliance. Aguirre served as a member of the CAUSE advisory committee and contributed money to the organization. Neither CAUSE nor Commissioner Aguirre disclosed this relationship.

The series also first reported on four campaign contributions made within the past eighteen months by Commissioner Jeanne Raya’s business to a state political action committee. Campaign finance watchdogs have criticized the failure to disclose the business contributions valued at $1,000.

The California State Auditor’s Office, which was legally obligated to complete background checks on commissioners, never reported on these campaign contributions. It explains why the State Auditor’s internal memos described their review process as “obviously rather brief” and “routine.”

Based on the original investigation, California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro called for Commissioner Aguirre’s resignation. Del Beccaro called for another investigation following the ProPublica story.

For more information on the California Redistricting Commission, see the links below to the series and other articles:

Part 1 of the Redistricting Series: “Gabino Aguirre’s Secret Political Past.”

Part 2 of the Redistricting Series: “Did Gabino Aguirre Flout Code of Conduct?”

Part 3 of the Redistricting Series: “Chart Shows Aguirre Conflicts of Interest.”

Part 4 of the Redistricting Series: “Jeanne Raya Failed to Reveal Donations.”

Part 5 of the Redistricting Series: “Muzzling Redistricting Commish Mike Ward.”

Part 6 of the Redistricting Series: “Mike Ward: Redistricting Panel Broke Law.”“GOP Chairman Del Beccaro Demands Aguirre Removal.”

Ventura County Star on the CAUSE/Aguirre/ Williams connection.

City Journal on Voting Rights Act violations.

Huffington Post on the commission’s problems.

Flash Report on the Democratic strategy of front groups.

OC Register Editorial on the investigation.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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