A self-described "independent" commissioner tasked with redrawing Michigan's political districts donated to left-wing causes and spoke at a local "progressive Democratic" group's general meeting.
Attorney Rebecca Szetela, who applied in Oct. 2019 to serve on the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission as an independent, has contributed at least $225 to EMILY's List, a powerful pro-abortion group that spends millions of dollars to elect Democratic candidates. Szetela also contributed to liberal candidates and causes at the state level, including multiple donations to the Southwestern Wayne Democratic Club and one to former Washington governor Christine Gregoire (D.).
Szetela in May also addressed the Progressive Democratic Women's Caucus of Muskegon County, a group that works to "ensure that Progressive Democrats are elected to county, state, and federal offices in the upcoming elections." While Szetela stated on her application that she does not "affiliate with either the Republican or Democratic Party," she declined to answer a follow-up question asking "why you don't affiliate with either" party.
Independents are supposed to serve the largest single bloc on Michigan's redistricting body, holding 5 of its 13 seats; 40 percent of those coveted positions, however, may be held by partisans. Like Szetela, 29-year-old medical student Anthony Eid publicly backed Democrats and liberal causes before applying to the board as an independent. He said he was "proud to live in a state that voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary" in 2016 and endorsed then-Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison for Democratic National Committee chairman, the Washington Free Beacon reported in August.
Both Szetela and Eid now play a crucial role in Michigan's redistricting process, which will reshape the state's political landscape for the next decade. To enact a new map, two independent members must vote for it, meaning Szetela and Eid could align with their Democratic colleagues to fulfill the quota. Eid in May acknowledged that commission applicants merely had to "self-identify" their partisan affiliation but said he did "not think anyone who was selected misrepresented themselves."
Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission spokesman Edward Woods said the commission "respects the process that enables all 13 commissioners to designate their affiliate status as a Democrat, Republican, or neither a Democrat nor Republican, regardless of their past political donations or endorsements."
"The Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission focuses on its mission to lead Michigan’s redistricting process to assure Michigan’s Congressional, State Senate, and State House district lines are drawn fairly in a citizen-led, transparent process, meeting Constitutional mandates," Woods said.
In addition to Szetela's political contributions, which were made under her maiden name, Szetela's husband donated to Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I., Vt.) Democratic presidential campaign on three occasions in 2016 and again in 2019. Szetela's husband also ran unsuccessfully in the 2012 Democratic primary for a local supervisor role. Prospective commissioners are deemed ineligible if their spouses ran "for partisan election office in federal, state, or local office" at any time since Aug. 15, 2014.
Michigan voters transferred redistricting powers from the state legislature to the commission through a 2018 ballot initiative, which came as Republicans held control of both chambers of the state legislature.
More than 9,300 Michiganders applied to serve on the commission, which consists of four Democrats, four Republicans, and five independents. The state then hired an outside firm to randomly select 200 semifinalists. Leaders in the state legislature were allowed to remove just 20 applicants. The commission's final 13 members were also randomly selected.
While the Michigan group behind the ballot initiative, Voters Not Politicians, calls itself a "nonpartisan grassroots organization," it received $250,000 from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a direct affiliate of the Democratic Party that is chaired by former Obama administration attorney general Eric Holder.
Voters Not Politicians executive director Nancy Wang defended the group's decision to accept the contribution, saying, "We were pleased to accept funding from any group that supported our nonpartisan solution to end gerrymandering." Wang also said, "The fact that you are asking about certain commissioners' backgrounds is a testament to the transparency of the voter-approved redistricting process."
"We believe the commission is doing a far better job already, just by meeting in public and accepting public input on communities of interest, than the past practice of politicians gerrymandering lines in secret to give themselves an unfair partisan advantage," Wang said in a statement. "We will continue to monitor the commission closely to see that it lives up to the amendment's words and spirit."
Update 7:45 a.m.: This piece has been updated with a comment from the Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission.