Common Cause Maryland, the bipartisan watchdog group that usually remains above the political fray, is wading into one of the most bitterly partisan fights of this election year by registering as an independent expenditure committee to fight to overturn the congressional redistricting map crafted by Gov. Martin O'Malley.
James Browning, mid-Atlantic regional director for Common Cause, confirmed that the group plans to raise and spend money to oppose Question 5 on the Nov. 6, which would put the new map into effect.
Critics of the O'Malley plan charge that it is one of the most gerrymandered maps in the United States, with convoluted lines creating sprawling districts designed to protect incumbent Democrats.
"It's really the worst in the country. It needs to go, and we need a better process," Browning said.
Common Cause has been critical of the redistricting map since the map was in its development state last year. Since the measure was put on the ballot, the group has stepped up its criticism.
Browning said Common Cause's registration with the State Board of Electionsan an election advocate is the first time the Maryland organization has taken that step since at least as far back as 2001, when he started working there. He added, however, that Common Cause has taken similar steps in other states.
Rather than involving itself directly in election fights, Common Cause's usual role is to advocate for stricter laws governing disclosure by campaign and ballot committees.
Common Cause's move puts it on the same side as the Maryland Republicans who petitioned the map to referendum after the legislature approved it early this year. But Browning said the group's decision has nothing to do with taking sides in a partisan brawl.
"If a Republican governor had put together a map like this, we would be just as opposed," he said.
The opposition to the redistricting plan was slow to get off the mark in the fall campaign, but in the last week has shown signs of life with various mail campaigns.
Browning said Common Cause has raised about $28,000 for its anti-Question 5 effort and hopes to take in another $10,000. He said the organization plans to concentrate its campaign on the print media and will run an ad in the Washington Jewish Weekly and might have enough money to run radio ads. Browning said the group can't afford television.
Common Cause will concentrate its fund-raising efforts on appeals to its own members, Browning said. He said there are no plans for traditional Maryland fund-raisers such as bull roasts.
Beyond throwing out the map, Common Cause wants to replace the current process for redrawing district lines -- as the state must do after every census -- with a system removed from politics.
"We are still talking about the process here and this map is a result of a bad process," Browning said.
Defeat of Question 5 would require the legislature to adopt a new map but would not force any change to the current process.