Did John Boehner Gerrymander For A Campaign Contributor?

Aides to House Speaker John Boehner personally and repeatedly intervened in the Ohio redistricting process, successfully lobbying the Republican-dominated state legislature to change the congressional district of a major business that is a top contributor to the national party, according to internal documents unearthed this week.

“Hours before the Congressional map was introduced, a specific change was made by Team Boehner to move the district lines at the bequest of a major Republican donor,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, who held a conference call with reporters on Tuesday to draw attention to the report, issued by the Ohio Campaign For Accountable Redistricting.

The business in question is Timken, a manufacturer based in Canton headed up by William Timken, who Redfern describes as “one of the biggest Republican donors, both in Ohio and nationally, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to Speaker Boehner, the NRCC and [freshman Ohio Republican] Congressman Jim Renacci.”

Redfern went on to point out that “The rolodex of Team Boehner and the NRCC also includes multiple members of the Timken family and Timken executives like CEO James Griffith.”

The emails paint a picture of a secretive process that was influenced at every turn by “Team Boehner,” a joint political action committee and campaign organization created by the Speaker earlier this year to preserve the Republicans’ majority in the House.

“Guys: really really sorry to ask but can we do a small carve out down 77 in Canton and put Timken in the 16th (district),” Tom Whatman, a senior aide at Team Boehner, wrote to Republican map guru and state legislative staffer Ray DiRossi, among others, in a Sept. 12 email just hours before the new congressional map was released.

Minutes later, Whitman was told the change would be made. He followed up, “Thanks guys. Very important to someone important to us all.”

“They literally met in a back room they called the ‘bunker,'” said Catherine Turcer, one of the researchers for the report and director of the Money in Politics Project at Ohio Citizen Action, a left-of-center good government group. She said the Campaign For Accountable Redistricting tended to collaborate with politicians (regardless of party) in the minority, as they are most likely to be concerned with redistricting and gerrymandering issues.

She hesitated to accuse Speaker Boehner of quid pro quo, trading a favorably drawn congressional map for political donations. But she argued that in many ways the money isn’t as important as the more established facts.

“What we know is this was truly a dog and pony show, because they came up with a script, and because they followed it; [Republican Governor] John Kasich literally made a joke about following a script. That means the public meetings weren’t truly deliberative, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives was actively involved [in the redistricting process].”

Timken’s headquarters, if the map is approved, would remain in Congressman Renacci’s district, to whom the company has donated $120,000 in the past two years. There are countless benefits to a company being based in friendly territory, including earmarked taxpayer dollars, assistance dealing with government regulators, and having a public advocate for corporate interests.

Before it goes into effect, the new congressional map could face a ballot challenge, with Democrats and others who oppose it working to collect the signatures necessary for a repeal campaign they hope will be much like the one that successfully nixed anti-union organizing legislation last month.

“Republicans in Ohio, with Speaker Boehner giving the marching orders, drew district lines to not only protect their own political futures, but also to protect the best interests of their biggest campaign contributors,” continued Redfern.

“And not only did Speaker Boehner’s team play a major role in the redistricting process, they also lied about the extent of that role,” he said, pointing to a statement from a Boehner spokesperson that the Speaker had no “official” role in the redistricting process.

Which perhaps wasn’t a lie so much as a tacit admission he played a more subversive one.

“[Ohio] House [Speaker William] Batchelder was clear at the outset of this process that he was interested in Speaker Boehner’s input — as well as the input of a number of other key stakeholders, Democrat and Republican,” Cory Fritz, a Team Boehner spokesman, told the Associated Press. “It shouldn’t come as a surprise now to see our staff was involved in an advisory role.

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