Voters were promised that the California Citizens Redistricting Commission would restore integrity to the redistricting process. No more political games. No more insider shenanigans. No more districts drawn specially for incumbents.
The commission has been a perfect failure on every account. The first maps were universally criticized by Republicans and Democrats and likely couldn’t withstand legal challenges on the basis of the Voting Rights Act. Last week, the commission announced that it wouldn’t release the second draft of maps– this from a commission that promised openness and transparency.
Now, we learn from Friday’s bombshell report from CalWatchdog.com that a commissioner has made multiple campaign contributions to Democratic candidates and has extensive connections to a redistricting special interest group.
From the CalWatchdog report:
Aguirre’s application to serve of the commission fails to list any political contributions to Democratic candidates or involvement with Democratic campaigns. His only reference to partisan activities is a list of past membership in the Peace and Freedom Party, the La Raza Unida Party, the Green Party and the Democratic Party.
The commission’s legally mandated background report, prepared in compliance with Title 2, Section 60835 of the California Code of Regulations, begins to tell the different story about Aguirre’s significant political activism.
In the September 19, 2010, “Report on Information Collected Concerning Applicant,” Steven Benito Russo, chief of investigations for the California Bureau of State Audits, acknowledged that Aguirre’s letters of recommendation came primarily from Democratic Party leaders, including Kathy Long, a Democratic supervisor for Ventura County, and Susan Broidy, a director of the California Democratic Party.
“Staff also discovered that Applicant had hosted fundraiser at his home in October 2008 for Ferial Masry, a Democratic candidate for Assembly, and in June 2010 endorsed Marie Panec, a Democratic candidate for Congress,” the investigator wrote. When pressed by staff about his partisan political activities, the report explained that Aguirre told them, “It’s not about the party — it’s about the person’s position.”
An independent review of state campaign finance documents revealed what state auditors missed: three campaign donations to Democratic candidates for state office. In November 2008, Aguirre contributed $100 to Ferial Masry, the Democratic nominee for the 37th State Assembly District. A year later, he doubled his political giving with a $200 contribution to Gloria Romero, a former Democratic State Senator and candidate for state superintendent of public instruction.
It’s understandable why the state’s nonpartisan investigators missed Aguirre’s final political contribution: it posted on the California Secretary of State’s website nine days after the California Bureau of State Audits completed its background report. That final contribution was a $100 to Das Williams, now the Democratic Assemblyman for the 35th district.
Williams, whose political career is directly impacted by the maps Aguirre must approve, previously interacted with his contributor dating back at least two years earlier, when Aguirre served as Santa Paula’s representative on the Ventura Council of Governments.
The new evidence produced by CalWatchdog’s report doesn’t just impugn the credibility of Commissioner Gabino Aguirre: it undermines any remaining shreds of public trust in the whole commission and the entire redistricting process.
That’s because the CalWatchdog investigation demonstrates a failure by the State Auditors to properly vet the commissioners.
- How could the State Auditor miss three campaign contributions made by Aguirre, especially when all of the contributions are publicly available on the Secretary of State’s website?
- Why didn’t the Commission have a system in place to monitor the ongoing potential for conflicts-of-interest? After all, Commissioner Aguirre’s last campaign contribution came nine days after the Commission completed its background investigation?
- How could the Commission miss Aguirre’s close ties to incumbent Assemblyman Das Williams?
- How could the Commission ignore the clear conflict-of-interest between Aguirre and the Coastal Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, which submitted its own maps to the commission?
Commissioner Aguirre should resign, but even that would be too little, too late. At this point, any maps produced by this Commission are irreversibly tainted. The experiment of the Citizens Redistricting Commission has failed. The only option left is for the redistricting process to shift to the courts.