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Follow the money: Pols try to undermine your vote

ElectionsTrials and ArbitrationLaws and LegislationJustice SystemMike Haridopolos

My question seemed simple enough: Whose money was it?

Sure, I knew the names of the politicians who opposed the fair-districting amendments, which we overwhelmingly approved at the polls earlier this month.

I knew that Dean Cannon and Mike Haridopolos had fought them before the elections — seeking to cling to rules that basically allowed legislators to customize district lines for themselves and their buddies.

And I knew that U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown and Mario Diaz-Balart had filed a lawsuit, trying to block our votes from counting.

Still, I wanted to know specifically who was funding the lawsuit, paying the court costs and paying the lawyers' bills.

Voters deserve to know who's trying to overturn their will.

As it turns out, getting the answer wasn't that easy … by design.

For starters, Brown, a Democrat, and Diaz-Balart, a Republican, wouldn't say. Brown's chief of staff simply ignored questions. And all Diaz-Balart's spokeswoman would say was "a legal defense fund" without further explanation.

So I began trying to find the records for myself. I mean, this is America, right? Where freedom-of-information reigns!

What I learned is that Congress doesn't allow you to access information about legal funds online, by phone or any way other than personally traveling to Washington and visiting a basement-level records room.

Most of you can't do that.

Fortunately, I have access to a secret weapon: Mark Matthews.

Mark is the Sentinel's Washington reporter. And he was kind enough to go digging through these files that are located hundreds of miles away from the people whose lives they affect.

Mark pulled the papers associated with Brown's and Diaz-Balart's legal funds. Neither was very up-to-date (federal law doesn't require that, either). But they did reveal that each legal fund had received $10,000 from the two groups: The Florida Leadership Alliance and Citizens for Housing and Urban Growth.

OK. But who is that?

I had to search different set of records to answer that question. After doing so, I learned that the people cutting checks to your federal representatives were, in fact, your state representatives.

The Florida Leadership Alliance is run by state Sen. Don Gaetz.

Citizens for Housing and Urban Growth is controlled by a cluster of legislators, including Sen. Mike Bennett of Bradenton and state Rep. Ron Reagan of Sarasota.

In other words: The state lawmakers you elected are helping fund a lawsuit filed by the federal lawmakers you elected … all in attempt to overturn the amendment you approved.

If you're wondering where the state legislators got their money, well, that's many of the usual suspects: Power companies, law firms, builders, you name it — all the people who benefit from the status quo.

It doesn't stop there.

Gaetz — the guy who's funding the fight against fair districts — was recently appointed to head the Senate committee that's in charge of — guess what? — redistricting!

Yes, our new Senate president, Mike Haridopolos, made that happen.

Not to be outdone, the new House speaker, Dean Cannon, put another vocal opponent of fair districts, Will Weatherford, in charge of redistricting in that chamber.

Ain't politics grand?

At this point, I'd like to take a time-out to remind you what's at stake here.

For decades, Florida politicians have drawn themselves districts that split neighborhoods in two, sometimes snaking hundreds of miles, just so each one has the right kind of voters to keep incumbents in office.

They have gotten so good at doing this that, after they did it last time, not a single legislative incumbent lost a re-election bid in 2004. In fact, over six years — and more than 400 legislative race — only three incumbents were ousted.

This also is why we have congressional districts that resemble pythons. It's why Brown lives in Jacksonville and represents Orlando, and why John Mica lives in Winter Park but represents Flagler Beach.

Both parties have done it. And voters know it stinks. That's why 62 percent voted to require that future districts be more compact and "not drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party."

It's that last part — stopping the built-in bias — that politicians fear the most. If they can't play with loaded dice and stacked decks, they don't want to play at all.

It's why Cannon personally went before the Supreme Court to keep on the ballot an amendment that would've neutered fair-districting. (He failed.)

It's also why the politicians keep fighting you — in court, with money from their vested-interest puppet masters, when they think you're not looking.

Because nothing scares them more than the thought of a fair fight.

Scott Maxwell can be reached at smaxwell@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-6141.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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ElectionsTrials and ArbitrationLaws and LegislationJustice SystemMike Haridopolos
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