After leaving the Obama administration, former Attorney General Eric Holder launched a redistricting crusade in the states, supporting, he told the Wall Street Journal, the effort by “citizens or nonpartisan commissions to draw electoral lines so neither party benefits.” To that end, Holder has been writing high-profile op-eds, one in support of a documentary film which, he claims, examines the “broken” political system resulting from partisan gerrymandering.
How ironic then that Holder’s actual work in Pennsylvania and other states is meant to do exactly what he decries: weaponize the redistricting process to help Democrats permanently turn Pennsylvania blue.
Holder has been laying the groundwork for his redistricting effort for years. Almost immediately after leaving the Obama administration, he declared that “Congress is broken” thanks to Republicans’ “extreme partisan gerrymandering.”
“This creates a Congress driven by primary party politics and ideological extremism,” Holder wrote, “not one accountable to the will of the majority of voters.”
His solution: the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), a PAC created after the 2016 election and chaired by Holder with the aim of replacing “gerrymandered” maps that favor Republicans with gerrymandered maps that favor Democrats. NDRC is anything but nonpartisan, billing itself as the “strategic hub for a comprehensive redistricting strategy” for Democrats.
The NDRC has set its sights on 12 states where Republicans either have a clear legislative majority, such as Texas, or face a close race against Democrats, such as North Carolina, in 2020. Pennsylvania is a high priority, and the NDRC PAC is pouring money directly into state races. In the 2017–18 election cycle, the NDRC sent $250,000 to Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D.) successful reelection campaign, and another $100,000 to the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s Senate PAC. In the 2019–20 cycle, it’s already given at least $25,000 to the Democrats’ Pennsylvania Senate PAC.
NDRC is supported by two “sister” nonprofits: the National Redistricting Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) that lobbies for state ballot measures supporting California-style redistricting “reforms,” and the National Redistricting Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that endlessly litigates against Republican-drawn maps.
Their efforts have already paid off. In 2017, the NDRC filed an amicus briefing supporting a lawsuit by the liberal League of Women Voters, which alleged that Pennsylvania’s congressional map unfairly favored Republicans. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed, threw the map out, and redrew it in 2018.
It goes without saying that congressional maps should be drawn with fairness in mind, but fairness is hardly Holder’s goal. Just consider who he’s surrounding himself with.
NDRC is closely allied with groups trying to turn Pennsylvania blue, such as America Votes, the self-described “coordination hub of the Progressive community.” America Votes emerged from the Democrats’ defeat in the 2004 election as the brainchild of a group of influential Democratic operatives: Clinton official Harold Ickes, then-Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern, then-Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, EMILY’s List founder Ellen Malcolm, and Partnership for America’s Families founder Steve Rosenthal.
America Votes quickly gained the support of major labor unions, litigation nonprofits, abortion advocates, environmentalist groups, and professional activists to put together a huge $95 million war chest for churning out likely Democratic voters in key battleground states, including Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
Holder’s war on Pennsylvania is cynical Washington politics at its worst, waged by the ultimate political insider. Recall that as attorney general, the self-described “activist attorney general” was held in contempt by the Republican-led House of Representatives with support from some Democrats, and critics on the right accused him of politicizing the U.S. Justice Department by ignoring Democratic voter intimidation cases and hiring only committed leftists to the civil service.
What are the consequences of Holder’s redistricting crusade? Consider his own words: “[W]hen politicians gerrymander the result is not just skewed elections results — it shows up in the policies enacted or blocked and in the hyper partisanship that frustrates so many Americans right now,” Holder wrote in the Hollywood Reporter.
In exporting his partisan political tricks to the states, Eric Holder is trying to twist state elections with the same stain that taints our national politics. That’s anything but fair.
Hayden Ludwig is an investigative researcher at Capital Research Center, a right-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C. Kevin Mooney is an investigative reporter with the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank.