GOP paid millions to operative who pushed census question aimed to help "whites"

Thomas Hofeller, who devised and strategized the census citizenship question, was on the Republican Party payroll

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published June 7, 2019 6:00AM (EDT)


The gerrymandering expert who was revealed to be behind the push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census — on the premise that it would help Republicans and “non-Hispanic whites” — was paid millions by the Republican National Committee until his death last year.

After Thomas Hofeller passed away last summer, his daughter discovered files on his hard drive revealing that he authored a study showing that a census citizenship question would help Republican gerrymandering. He pushed the Trump administration to add the question to the 2020 census. After Hofeller's previously unreported role in the census issue was revealed, Mother Jones found Federal Election Commission filings showing that the Republican Party had paid him more than $2 million for his work.

Hofeller, who wrote that adding the question would “clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” was on the RNC payroll from June 2009 until his death last August. He had previously worked as a redistricting consultant for the RNC between the 1980s and early 2000s.

According to the filings, the RNC continued to pay him for “legal and compliance” work after he left his official position and right up until his death. He earned $422,000 after Trump’s inauguration, receiving regular monthly payments of $22,247.

During that time, Hofeller was paid by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news outlet owned by billionaire Republican donor Paul Singer, to study how to implement congressional maps based only on the number of voting-age citizens rather than on a state’s total population.

Hofeller, who was behind numerous controversial gerrymanders like the one struck down in North Carolina because it was based on race, authored a study in 2015 which stated that basing maps only on the number of adult citizens rather than the total population “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites,” according to court filings.

After crafting the study and while being paid by the RNC, Hofeller lobbied Trump’s transition team to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census, according to last year’s testimony from former transition aide Mark Neuman.

Neuman testified that Hofeller told him that adding the question would be necessary to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act and increase Hispanic turnout, despite writing exactly the opposite in his study months earlier.

Files found on Hofeller’s hard drive showed that he was integral to the Trump administration’s dubious justification for adding the question. After he submitted several memos to the Trump team presenting arguments that could be used to justify implementing the question, an entire paragraph from one of his memos appeared verbatim in a draft letter from the Justice Department urging the Census Bureau to add the question.

The question was ultimately put on hold by federal courts and will now be ruled upon by the Supreme Court. The conservative majority on the high court appeared likely to uphold the question when they heard arguments in April.

The ACLU, the New York Immigration Coalition and other groups seeking to block the question have attempted to enter the files Hofeller’s daughter discovered into evidence in their New York lawsuit. They also requested an expedited discovery process in the case in hopes of finding more evidence that might be used to pause the Supreme Court’s review of the case. Their request was denied by a judge and the Supreme Court is still expected to rule on the case this month, The Daily Beast reported.

It is unclear if the Supreme Court will consider the new evidence found on Hofeller’s hard drive, since it was not available when it first heard arguments in April.

“There are precedents on both sides of the question. Sometimes, the Supreme Court admits new evidence; other times, it doesn’t. Unlike lower courts, the Supreme Court can, more or less, do whatever it wants,” Jay Michaelson wrote at The Daily Beast, adding, “It’s quite possible that a majority of the court will simply decide the case on the evidence in front of it, rendering all of the new discoveries legally irrelevant.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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