By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Documents containing memos, maps and emails from Gainesville-based Data Targeting regarding the state’s 2012 redistricting effort have surfaced. They show political consultants made a concerted effort to work around Florida’s gerrymandering ban.
The emails weren’t set to be released to the public until Dec. 1, but they were leaked to the press this week. The emails were first published by the Scripps-Tribune Tallahassee Bureau and then published by other media outlets.
These emails were a key part of an ongoing legal battle launched by the Florida League of Women Voters and others. The group sued state legislators because they claimed the GOP-led Florida Legislature redrew the districts in a way that violated laws enshrined in the 2010 Fair Districts Amendments, which mandate the state draw boundaries that don’t favor one party over the other.
Data Targeting, however, had been trying to keep those emails a secret. The company argued the contained trade secrets.
But earlier this month, in a rare unanimous vote, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Data Targeting must make public hundreds of emails, maps and memos used during the state’s effort to redraw political districts by Dec. 1.
Now that we know what’s in those 538 pages of emails, it is clearer what happened during the redistricting process.
The Republican consultants had to be hush-hush — “almost paranoid” in the words of one — because of their high-stakes mission: Get go-betweens to help circumvent a Florida Constitutional ban on gerrymandering.
The plot was spelled out in a newly released batch of once-secret emails that show how the consultants surreptitiously drew congressional and state legislative maps. They then recruited seemingly independent citizens to submit them in an effort to strengthen the hand of Florida Republicans when the GOP-led Legislature redrew lawmaker districts in 2011.
The emails also provide a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of how political players used secrecy and deception as they recruited third parties to submit maps, some of which were drawn by Gainesville-based Data Targeting firm, led by political player Pat Bainter.
“Want to echo Pat’s reminder about being incredibly careful and deliberative here, especially when working with people who are organizing other folks,” Data Targeting’s Matt Mitchell wrote in a Nov. 29, 2011 email. “Must be very smart in how we prep every single person we talk to about all of these. If you can think of a more secure and failsafe way to engage our people, please do it. Cannot be too redundant on that front.”
“Pat and I will probably sound almost paranoid on this over the next week, but it will be so much more worthwhile to be cautious,” Mitchell concluded.
About 14 minutes later, consultant Jessica Corbett of Electioneering Consulting, responded that she understood the plan.
“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,” Corbett wrote, noting that she limits what “I am putting in writing” in emails.
Among the many highlights in this chain of emails, is that the company planned on recruiting other people to submit the maps they made so it wouldn’t get traced back to them.
The emails also indicate that Stafford Jones, a political consultant and head of the Alachua County Republican Party, recruited people to submit maps drawn by political consultants as part of the formal state process.
“I can direct Stafford to have his people send these maps via email,” wrote Matt Mitchell, a firm staffer, in an Oct. 17, 2011 email to Bainter.
It was a reference to sending maps to the redistricting email address setup by the state for public submissions. That chatter referred to state Senate maps, but it did follow a pattern that was laid out during the trial focused on congressional districts.
Heffley and Terraferma both testified that maps they drew were identical to those submitted by members of the public. That includes a map submitted by Alex Posada, a former FSU student, who became a star witness during the trial.
Terraferma testified that much of Posada’s map was “identical” to the one he drew. Portions of that version were used in the final congressional maps. Jones, the longtime Republican consultant, was never short on people to submit maps drawn by Data Targeting and other consultants.
In an Oct. 2011 email from Bainter to staffers “building alternate maps for submitting,” he was clear there would be no shortage of people to submit the proposals.
“Stafford [is] getting me 10 more people at least,” Bainter wrote.
The Florida Supreme Court is set to officially unseal those emails today, which means they will be open to the public. Unless the company’s lawyers can dissuade the court today, a still-secret transcript from Data Targeting’s Pat Bainter will also be released.