Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias has long decried the evils of gerrymandering. Now, he's getting rich off it.
Democratic and progressive groups paid Elias's firm more than $1 million in the most recent quarter, according to Federal Election Commission records released this week. One of Elias's biggest clients, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is leading efforts to redraw congressional districts in New York and Maryland. With polls indicating Democratic losses in November, the controversial gerrymander scheme is seen as the party's best hope of maintaining majority control of Congress.
The effort opens both parties up to allegations of hypocrisy. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D., N.Y.), the chairman of the DCCC who worked with Elias to redraw New York’s maps, accused Republicans last year of using gerrymandering to win control of the House. Elias has repeatedly accused Republicans of partisan gerrymandering. He recently sued to block North Carolina and Ohio from adopting maps he claimed are unfair to Democrats.
Elias Law Group has raked in millions of dollars since Elias launched it in August. The DCCC paid the firm $424,048 in December, according to campaign filings. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee paid the firm $492,560. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D., N.Y.) Senate Majority PAC paid Elias Law Group another $162,797.
The firm received another $40,000 collectively from Priorities USA Action, the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, George Soros’s Democracy PAC, and former attorney general Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee. The Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump PAC founded by former Republican operatives, paid Elias Law Group $45,288.
Of all of Elias’s legal maneuverings, his work with the DCCC could have the most political impact in November. Elias and Maloney have pushed for changes to congressional districts that could help Democrats pick up as many as seven seats. FiveThirtyEight said New York's maps were "heavily biased" in favor of Democrats and, if approved by the state legislature, could single-handedly protect the party’s House majority in November.
The proposed map would put Democrats in control of around 80 percent of the state’s House seats, far higher than the 62 percent vote share Democrats received in House races in the Empire State in 2020. Maloney has defended the gerrymandered maps, saying that Republicans are using the tactic to pick up seats in red states. "I believe in bringing a gun to a gunfight," he told Politico.
Elias and the DCCC are behind a similar effort in Maryland. Prior to the DCCC and Elias joining forces with Maryland Democrats to push for the gerrymander in court, state-level Democrats jettisoned their pledge for a transparent redistricting process and crafted their maps almost entirely behind closed doors and with no public input.
This is not the first instance of Democrats doing the type of gerrymandering they decry. Holder, who formed the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to fight gerrymandering, waged an effort to draw up Pennsylvania’s electoral maps to protect Democratic seats. Holder’s group, which is heavily funded by foreign billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, paid Elias’s firm $10,000 in recent months, according to FEC filings.
Elias, whom liberals tout as a champion of election integrity, has a history of defending questionable political tactics. In Nevada, Elias Law Group defended an ad from an advocacy group aligned with Schumer’s Senate Majority PAC that wildly inflated Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto's (D., Nev.) accomplishments.
The ad was so inaccurate that local Nevada stations pulled it from the air, and Elias conceded that Cortez Masto’s accomplishments are more theoretical than actual. "The fact that her work has not yet resulted in a bill that has been enacted into law does not mean her work does not count, or even that it was in vain," his firm conceded.
Elias Law Group also represented Virginia Accountability PAC, a group that aired deceptive ads during the Virginia gubernatorial race to portray Republican Glenn Youngkin as soft on gun rights.
Elias also runs Democracy Docket, a website launched in 2020 to highlight his legal cases. Several deep-pocketed Democratic donors support the site through the Hopewell Fund, which funds progressive causes. The Sherwood Foundation, the charity funded by Warren Buffett, contributed $500,000 to Democracy Docket in 2020. The Democracy Fund, led by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, gave $1.5 million to the Democracy Docket. The Sandler Foundation, the charity of late Democratic donor Herb Sandler, gave $1.5 million to Democracy Docket, while the MacArthur Foundation contributed another $800,000.
The gerrymandered map in New York would also fall hardest on two Republican women in the state’s delegation: Rep. Claudia Tenney and Rep. Nicole Malliotakis. The DCCC-backed proposal all but erases Tenney’s district, while Malliotakis’s new district has been drawn to include many more Democratic voters.
Malliotakis, who announced her bid to run in the new district, accused Democrats of trying to "steal" her seat through the gerrymandered realignment.
Elias has a history of trying to overturn races won by Republicans, especially women.
Last cycle, he baselessly claimed that New York’s voting machines were compromised in a race between Tenney and his client, Anthony Brindisi. Elias made the unsuccessful argument while criticizing Republicans who claimed machine errors cost Donald Trump the presidential election.
Elias also fought last year to overturn Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’s (R., Iowa) narrow win in Iowa’s Second Congressional District. Elias appealed to the House to challenge the election results, bypassing the Iowa state courts. Elias’s client, Rita Hart, eventually conceded to Miller-Meeks.
Elias was sanctioned by the Texas appeals court last year for making false statements in a voting rights complaint. Elias’s sanction in Texas could further complicate his work with the Democratic Party. The lawyer he hired is a Republican with a history of opposing the same gay rights causes championed by Democrats. Paul Clement, Elias’s lawyer, defended the Defense of Marriage Act, and even quit his former law firm after it moved to drop its defense of DOMA.
Elias Law Group and the DCCC did not respond to requests for comment.