News Column

GOP Consultant Got Political Maps Before Public Did

June 21, 2013

New records in a court fight over Florida's redrawn congressional and legislative maps show an aide to former House Speaker Dean Cannon released congressional maps to a Republican operative two weeks before they were made public.

The records -- a May deposition of GOP political consultant Marc Reichelderfer and emails he received from Cannon aide Kirk Pepper in late 2011 -- are being used by Fair Districts supporters in a legal battle over whether ruling Republican legislators followed the 2010 anti-gerrymandering reforms when they drew the maps.

The Fair Districts groups, including the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause, argue that lawmakers drew the maps to favor Republican candidates -- in violation of constitutional amendments passed by nearly 63 percent of voters -- and are pressing two lawsuits to pry more emails and testimony out of party consultants, legislators and staff.

The Legislature, along with consultants Pat Bainter and his associates at Gainesville-based Data Targeting Inc., is fighting the lawsuits.

On Thursday, after a Fair Districts lawyer argued the fight over records meant they couldn't be ready for a trial by August, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis pushed it to late December or January 2014.

Lewis overrode objections by lawyers for the state and Legislature, who said that delay could impact the 2014 elections if potential candidates are uncertain whether existing congressional and legislative maps will survive in the present form.

"The last thing this court should permit is blowing up election schedules," said House lawyer George Meros.

State Department lawyer Ashley Davis said the later trial date "cannot reasonably be expected to yield a final map prior to the first election deadline" for submitting enough signatures by March 31 to qualify for office.

The records released Thursday show Pepper forwarded copies of seven draft congressional maps to an electronic drop box for Reichelderfer in late November 2011 -- two weeks before they were made available to the public.

"So your friend, Mr. Kirk Pepper, evidently sent you those seven maps something like two weeks before the general public ever saw them, right?" a Fair Districts lawyer asked Reichelderfer in the May deposition.

"According to these documents," he answered.

The lawyer later asked whether the reason was to analyze how they would perform politically.

"I could have done that, yes, sir," Reichelderfer responded.

Cannon, Pepper and Reichelderfer -- none of whom could be reached for comment -- then had a lengthy email exchange about the maps. A House redistricting staff director, Alex Kelly, informed Pepper of changes to what was then the district of U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Orlando, to address "things the Speaker has said are important to him."

Adams was ultimately drawn into a new district along with 10-term incumbent John Mica, R-Winter Park, who beat her in the 2012 GOP primary.

Pepper then forwarded the email to Reichelderfer.

"So you are being exposed to a discussion about how the congressional plan is being formed, right?" a Fair Districts lawyer asked Reichelderfer.

"Appears to be, yes, sir."

"But I thought that was something you weren't supposed to be involved with?" the lawyer asks.

"I don't know. The e-mail says that I am," Reichelderfer answers.

Fair Districts lawyers argue the evidence gathered already shows why the court should order lawmakers and consultants to hand over more records as well as give depositions under oath. An appeals court last month ruled lawmakers didn't have to testify in the challenge, but that decision has been appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

Last month, Judge Lewis held Data Targeting Inc. along with employees Bainter, Matt Mitchell and Michael Sheehan in contempt of court for not producing thousands of pages of records. The firm has turned over about 1,800 pages of records, but they haven't been released publicly.

adeslatte@tribune.com or 850-222-5564

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