Iowa group to fund suit against Maryland's congressional map

An Iowa-based foundation is financing a federal lawsuit that seeks to overturn Maryland's new congressional map on the grounds that it unconstitutionally splits minority communities.

Christopher Rants, a Republican former speaker of the Iowa House who heads the Legacy Foundation, confirmed that the group is paying for the legal challenge, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

"When I saw the maps, I was just incredulous," Rants said in a telephone interview. "We don't do things like that out here."

The foundation — which has previously defended Arizona's contentious immigration law — was created to "advance individual liberty, free enterprise and limited, accountable government," according its website.

The lawsuit, organized by a Prince George's County political action committee, alleges that Gov. Martin O'Malley and the Democratic controlled General Assembly drew congressional districts that broke apart black neighborhoods to benefit white Democratic candidates.

States are required to adjust their congressional district boundaries every decade to reflect population changes identified by the census. In redrawing Maryland's eight districts, a panel appointed by O'Malley added a swath of Democratic Montgomery County to the reliably conservative 6th District in Western Maryland. The new map could allow Democrats — who currently hold six of Maryland's eight seats in the House of Representatives — to pick up a seventh.

Unless altered in court, the map is to be used in Maryland's April 3 primary.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, also a Democrat, has analyzed the map and determined that it would pass legal muster. A spokeswoman for O'Malley said Thursday that the governor is confident it will stand up to legal challenges. "The governor's map complies with the letter and the spirit of the law," spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said.

The suit also contends that in preparing the map, Maryland was wrong to count prisoners as residing at their last known address rather than at the state or federal facility in which they are imprisoned. The suit argues that Maryland disenfranchised about 1,400 voters who were "eliminated" from the rolls because their last known address was outside Maryland.

In defending the map, Gansler has noted that courts have upheld maps in other states that count college students and military families at addresses other than where they sleep each night.

Nine plaintiffs are named in the suit, including five from Prince George's County, one from Montgomery County, one from Baltimore City, one from Baltimore County and one from Charles County.

They were assembled by the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, a group founded last year to promote creation of congressional and legislative districts where most residents are minorities. The group has long said it would challenge O'Malley's map but had trouble finding a funding source.

The Legacy Foundation website includes a page devoted to raising money to overturn Maryland's map. Rants would not say how much his group has committed to contribute, but estimated that the legal battle would cost $400,000.

The group's 2010 financial disclosure form shows it spent about $200,000 to "encourage voters who appear discouraged by the Democratic process." Rants said the foundation has grown since then, but stressed that additional fundraising would be needed to cover the Maryland court costs.

The federal process is set up expedite redistricting suits. If the complaint passes an initial test, it will go directly to a three-judge panel. Appeals from that panel go to the Supreme Court.

Until recently, the Legacy Foundation was chaired by hog millionaire Bruce Rastetter, a GOP national donor whom the Associated Press recently dubbed a "Republican kingmaker." He recently left the group, Rants said.

Rants said O'Malley's national profile played no role in the group's decision to take on the case. "Not everything is about partisan politics," he said.

Since last December, O'Malley has chaired the Democratic Governors Association and is often mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential contender

Ten years ago, the Maryland Republican Party challenged the legislative map produced by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat. GOP Chairman Michael S. Steele tried to defray some of the costs by transferring money from his campaign account to the party, a use the Maryland Board of Elections found improper.

Repaying Steele nearly bankrupted the party, and GOP fundraisers have been skeptical that enough funds could be found in Maryland to finance the suit filed Thursday.



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