A group focused on redistricting linked to former President Barack Obama gave $500,000 to the Democratic Party of Virginia to support the gubernatorial campaign of Democratic candidate Ralph Northam, records show.
The National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), a Washington, D.C.-based organization founded in 2016 that is chaired by former Attorney General Eric Holder, is dedicated to "enacting a comprehensive, multi-cycle Democratic Party redistricting strategy over the next 5 years and beyond." The group seeks to impact the 2021 redistricting process by utilizing electoral, legal, and ballot initiative components.
"Republican gerrymandered districts after the 2010 Census have put Democrats at a massive structural disadvantage," the NDRC website states. "That’s why the most important turning point for the future of the Democratic Party will take place in 2021: when states redraw their Congressional and state legislative lines."
The NDRC gave the donation to the Democratic Party of Virginia Coordinated Campaign on August 29 in support of Northam, campaign data from the Virginia Public Access Project shows. Northam is running for governor against Republican Ed Gillespie. Large contributions such as this are permissible in Virginia because the state does not have a limit on campaign giving.
This appears to be the first donation from the group, which plans on zeroing in on state elections that could impact redistricting.
"The NDRC will coordinate and support state-based electoral work led by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, Democratic Governors Association, while supporting other key down-ballot races with redistricting implications," the NDRC's electoral goal reads.
The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) is Northam's biggest donor to date, with $2,063,411 in contributions. Elisabeth Pearson, the executive director of the DGA, sits on the NDRC's board of directors. The Virginia League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group, is the second largest contributor, with $874,042 in donations.
The Democrat Party of Virginia has given $738,924 to Northam's campaign. Michael Bills, founder of the Charlottesville-based investment firm Blue Asset Management LLC who sat on failed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's national finance committee, has given $586,000 while the Virginia affiliate of Planned Parenthood contributed $532,122, rounding out the top five donors to Northam's campaign.
Obama held a strategy meeting with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y), Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D.), and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) before leaving the White House, where they identified breaking up Republican congressional control as a central goal for the Democratic Party.
Obama resented the way the House Republican majority had impaired his goals during a portion of his presidency, Holder told the New York Times earlier this year.
"The tasks that he had placed before him were made a lot more difficult, progress a lot more difficult, than it needed to be," said Holder. "That's because of the Congress that he had to deal with, which was a function of the 2010 redistricting effort."
Obama made his return to politics after leaving the White House by headlining a NDRC fundraiser this summer that was also attended by Holder and Pelosi. McAuliffe has also been involved with the group's fundraising efforts. Obama is expected to hit the campaign trail on behalf of Northam this fall, Politico reported in July. The NDRC raised $10.8 million in the first half of 2017.
Marc Elias, a partner at the D.C.-based Perkins Coie law firm who was Hillary Clinton's top campaign lawyer, acts as NDRC's senior adviser and general counsel.
Kelly Ward, the former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), is now the executive director of the NDRC.
In addition to Pearson, DGA's executive director, Ali Lapp, the president of the House Majority PAC, a Pelosi-backed Super PAC, sits on the NDRC's board of directors.
Other board members include Jessica Post, the executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and Greg Speed, the president of America Votes, the self-described "coordination hub of the progressive community" that works to increase Democratic voter turnout.
The Obama-linked group appeared at the Democracy Alliance network's spring investment conference and donor summit this past March. Ward appeared on a panel to discuss how liberal groups were "aligning their national plans with one another and in partnership with state donor alliances."
Major liberal players are throwing millions into the Virginia race.
Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer announced plans in August to spend $2 million through NextGen Climate Action, his political group.
The group said it had hired 70 staffers at 25 college campuses across the Commonwealth whose primary focus is registering young people to vote, the Associated Press reported. Virginia is one of two states with governor races this year.
The NDRC did not return a request for comment on its donation by press time.