COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio lawmakers have spent more than $173,000 on consultants, mapping software, high-end computers, hotels and other redistricting-related costs as they continue to work on redrawing Ohio’s political maps, records show.
House and Senate Democrats have spent $115,400 on redistricting-related expenses so far, while Republicans have spent $42,380, according to documents obtained through a public records request. The cost disparity is due to Democrats’ hiring of outside consultants to provide them with technical expertise, while Republicans apparently have kept things in-house.
The records provide a glimpse at what otherwise has been a highly secretive process, particularly from Republicans, who have taken the lead in the process, due to their dominance of state government.
The most recent state budget set aside $1 million for redistricting costs. Each party received $150,000 in April, and the Democrats requested and received approval to spend another $200,000 last month. The funding increase was approved by Sen. Rob McColley, a Republican who sits with House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes on a panel that jointly signs off on redistricting expenses.
Democrats’ biggest-ticket items include $50,000 to hire HaystaqDNA, a Democratic political data firm based in Washington, D.C. that’s run by alumni of former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Sykes hired the company, which also has consulted for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns and a citizen redistricting commission in California, in August, around the same time Democrats requested the funding increase.
HaystaqDNA eventually will be paid $120,000, according to the company’s agreement with House Democrats. The company will provide general redistricting services, including doing technical work in designing and analyzing district proposals, working with caucus leaders to “understand goals and priorities for legislative and congressional districts” and presenting redistricting plans in ways that are digestible to reporters, other legislators and the general public, according to its state contract.
House Democrats hired outside consultants because they don’t have anyone internally with extensive knowledge in mapping and geographic software, said Pete Shipley, a caucus spokesman.
The other big expense for Democrats is the $39,000 Senate Democrats paid to Caliper, a company that develops the popular Maptitude redistricting computer program, for software licenses and training. Senate Democrats also spent $10,444 on computer equipment and software, including $7,445 for two high-end Dell laptops and $16,000 to Project Govern, a data firm run by Chris Glassburn, a North Olmsted Democratic consultant.
Glassburn eventually will be paid $50,000, plus travel expenses and software licensing, according to Giulia Cambieri, a spokeswoman for Ohio Senate Democrats.
The biggest expense for Republicans meanwhile is the $20,000 they spent on software licenses for Maptitude, the same redistricting program purchased by Democrats. They also spent $14,850 on hardware, $12,488 of which went toward parts to build two custom, high-end computers and four accompanying 32-inch, flat-screen monitors. Parts for the fancy computers include RAM, processors and video cards designed for high-end gaming and a black computer chassis with a tempered glass to hold everything.
They also spent $5,734 to pre-reserve 40 room nights at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel in Downtown Columbus.
Spokespeople for House and Senate Republicans said the hotels were used for staff to stay in overnight, so they wouldn’t have to drive home tired after working late hours on redistricting-related tasks.
Other Republican expenses include nearly $1,800 spent on printer ink, glossy 36-inch photo-quality paper and a four-pack of paper tubes for carrying large documents, such as rolled legislative maps, and other computer equipment.
Republican expenses do not include anything for staff or redistricting consultants. But at least one Senate Republican staffer, Ray DiRossi, who has worked on the maps is a veteran of the 2011 redistricting, which Republicans successfully used to design gerrymandered maps that gave them 75% of Ohio’s congressional seats during the 10 years they were in effect. DiRossi was paid $105,000 as a temporary outside contractor for that work back in 2011.
The Ohio Redistricting Commission is working toward approving new state legislative maps ahead of a Sept. 15 legal deadline. Republicans on the seven-member commission introduced a map proposal on Thursday, more than a week after a constitutional deadline, that as designed likely would further cement their veto-proof supermajority at the Ohio Statehouse, despite new anti-gerrymandering rules approved by voters in 2015.
Republicans say they want to get support for their maps from the commission’s two Democrats, whose votes are necessary for the maps to last for 10 years, and have said they’re open to negotiation on the maps. If they aren’t approved with bipartisan support, the maps only will be good for four years.
There also is a separate, but similar process to redraw Ohio’s 15 congressional districts, the final deadline for which falls on Nov. 30.
— to www.cleveland.com