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State-level redistricting fights involve plenty of money moves

Activists march to Senate Hart Office Building June 25, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Common Cause, American Promise, Take Back Our Republic and Represent Us and Fix It America co-hosted an event and visits to congressional members from New Mexico to urge the Congress to support 'the Fix It America Constitutional Amendment to reign in the influence of big money in politics and curb the abuses of gerrymandering in the redistricting process.' Alex Wong/Getty Images

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Labor Day weekend marks the final sprint for political campaigning and fundraising before the midterm elections in November. While Democrats and Republicans are struggling for control of Congress, there’s another important battle brewing over state legislatures. 

Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute of Money in Politics, joined Kimberly Adams to discuss why there’s so much money and attention spent on these state races. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. 

Kimberly Adams: When it comes to the state races, they take on particular importance this year because of the upcoming census, right?

Edwin Bender: That’s correct. Every 10 years we go through an election cycle, and the winners of that get the prize of being in control of the redistricting process in the states. And that redistricting process often means that the parties in control of the process can create districts that benefit them come the next election cycle.

Adams: And has the importance of the election in that context shown up in anything you’ve seen in terms of the fundraising or who’s getting involved in state elections?

Bender: Yeah, it is early yet at the state level, but I think the best example is in Virginia, where you had a group of committees give something like $2.7 million to make sure their candidates prevailed in Virginia in 2017. So one group in particular, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, has an eye on trying to gain control of the redistricting process in the states.

Adams: But what’s different this year compared to any other year when redistricting is effectively on the ballot?

Bender: The difference this year, I think, is that we had, in the 2010 election cycle, a similar process in which the Democrats were in control and Republicans came out with something called the “Red Map,” and they went through a process of spending money getting state lawmakers elected – and as a result, were able to flip a number of important states.

Adams: And do we have a sense yet of what states are seeing the biggest infusions of political cash?

Bender: We don’t know because independent spending is so poorly disclosed. But you’re probably going to see some of the same states that were targeted last time. Places like Pennsylvania, that’s a battleground state, Ohio is a battleground state. I think you’re going to see a lot of effort that may even be a bipartisan effort, trying to get to a place where we start reforming [and] rethinking about how a representative government works.

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