For years, Thomas Hofeller, a GOP political consultant considered to be a mastermind on gerrymandering and voter suppression, schemed to add a citizenship question to the census. In a once secret 2015 memo, he wrote that drawing up voter district maps based on the number of citizens rather than the total population would be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” since immigrants and Latinos would be reluctant to fill out the census if they had to provide citizenship information. This would result in a massive total undercount and Hispanics and immigrant communities “would lose electoral representation, as well as billions in federal funding,” this article in Slate explained.
Hofeller died in August 2018. His “mastery of redistricting strategy helped propel the Republican Party from underdog to the dominant force in state legislatures and the House of Representatives,” the New York Times said in his obituary.
The Commerce Department, which runs the census, added the citizenship question in 2018 but the Supreme Court later blocked it. The Trump administration said it needed the information to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, but the court called that explanation “contrived.”
While the administration has claimed that there was no connection between its decisions seeking to add the census question and Hofeller’s work — it would be embarrassing to admit the racial connection — it’s pretty obvious that explanation is bogus and that Trump officials lied about that under oath.
Indeed, the Republican National Committee had been paying Hofeller for years before his death, according to Mother Jones. The magazine said that between Trump’s inauguration and July 2018, he received $422,000. This July, Hoffeller’s estranged daughter, Stephanie Hofeller Lizon, turned over hard drives from her father’s computer to Common Cause, which has filed a gerrymandering lawsuit in North Carolina, where Hofeller manipulated voting districts. (There are a number of other lawsuits around the country involving Hofeller’s work, as well as a congressional investigation.
The hard drives contained reams of negative information, including clear evidence of links between Hofeller and the Trump administration on the census issue. For example, the hard drives held the 2015 memo, which showed that Hofeller recognized the racial goal he hoped to achieve with the census might look bad so he suggested it would be better to disguise the addition of citizenship question as an effort to enforce the Voting Rights Act — which is exactly what the Trump administration tried to do last year.
During a deposition Hofeller Lizon said that that Dalton Oldham, her father’s business partner at a firm called Geographic Strategies LLC, went to her parents’ home after her father’s death and took two computers. It’s still not clear what information was on the computers but it’s apparently more recent than what was on the hard drives. Oldham has been fighting to avoid turning over the information from the computers ever since. In September, he and other GOP figures filed motions in the North Carolina seeking to seal or destroy all of Hofeller’s files, which contain more than 100,000 documents and thousands of maps.
Oldham says the files contain trade secrets and confidential work for clients, such as the RNC, and that their disclosure would “reveal a major political party’s internal, proprietary and highly confidential communications and strategy.”
Meanwhile, new Federal Election Commission filings show that the RNC paid Oldham about $420,000 this month, part of $660,000 he had received since May alone, for “legal and compliance services.” So whatever is on those computers he’s got must he highly valuable, or damaging, depending on your perspective.