At Zero Hour, Competitive Congressional Races See Fights Over Reproductive Health

Amanda Marcotte

Three of the most highly competitive House and Senate races feature spirited debate on reproductive health and other so-called "social" issues.

Dubbed the "silly season"
by political bloggers, campaign season is noteworthy each time around
for the race to the bottom by people willing to exploit any angle they
have to get a single vote.  In the last few days of this historic
election, I keep finding myself humming "Love Will Tear Us Apart"
by Joy Division, specifically the lines, "All my failings
exposed/Get a taste in my mouth/As desperation takes hold." 
Many of us are clutched up in anxiety waiting for Election Day, and
short of a massage, the best relaxation is sitting back and laughing
at the shenanigans.   

The House race between
Illinois 6th District incumbent Peter Roskam and challenger Jill Morgenthaler has become the one to
watch, if you look to politics to entertain you.  Roskam holds
the seat previously held by the abortion obsessive Henry Hyde, who wrote
the infamous Hyde amendment that requires women who receive federal
health care to carry pregnancies to term against their will if they
can’t scrape together the money to pay for abortions.  Roskam, if anything, is even more interested
in using his political power to control women’s private health care
decisions, and this aspect of his political philosophy has become a major factor in
Morgenthaler’s argument against him

Morgenthaler has highlighted Roskam’s attempts to pass a law that
would require women to carry all embryos created for in-vitro fertilization
to term, though the bill did not seem to stipulate that women would
be required to carry 12 to 15 fetuses at once, which perhaps was its
only nod to reality.   

Until this week, Roskam has not had
the money to run ads against Morgenthaler,

and he’s in a state of stress that tends to make political watchers
grab the popcorn, because we know it’s just a matter of time before
something indiscreet comes out of his mouth.  Roskam did not disappoint, as the Pioneer Press
reported.
 

    Citing the late Congressman
    Henry Hyde, who represented the 6th District for 16 terms until 2006,
    Roskam said people cannot be categorized by the way in which they were
    conceived and asked in the Pioneer Press interview why women can have
    abortions if rapists cannot be executed. 

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It’s a baffling statement,
because the only people who truly want to classify people by their conception
are those who espouse "traditional values" and want to classify
people into groups known as "legitimate" and "illegitimate"
precisely on the circumstances of their conception and their parents’
relationship to one another.  As far as I know, no one suggests
giving people conceived by rape fewer rights.  The question I want
to ask Roskam is, if we don’t execute rapists, why do we think it’s
okay to punish their innocent victims with forced childbirth? 

But it’s not a real political
circus until someone sues someone else for libel, and challenger Kay
Hagan of North Carolina obliged, suing Senate incumbent Elizabeth Dole
for defamation and libel.

At issue are a series of ads that imply not just that Hagan consorts
with atheists, but she herself is "godless."  The ad confuses
the words of a local atheist activist, seeming to put them directly
in Hagan’s mouth, even though Hagan is a Presbyterian who teaches
Sunday school.  The lawsuit hurt my feelings a bit, because I’m
an atheist and don’t see that we’re so bad that it’s defaming
to consort with us, but in a nation that’s overrun with culture warriors
who want to imply that one can’t have religious faith and be pro-choice
or pro-gay, I can see the political importance of the lawsuit.  

Dole, who sits in the seat
once occupied by Jesse Helms, has tried to defeat Hagan by pulling out
all culture warrior stops, blanketing North Carolina with mailers decrying Hagan’s
unwillingness to write bigotry into the state constitution,
and comically showing two male dolls
wearing tuxedos, one kneeling in front of the other. I’m taking the
kneeling image as a good sign.  It used to be that just showing
people same sex dolls standing next to each other would send a community
into a tizzy.  Now that’s apparently not enough, and they have
to use images that unsubtly hint at pornographic ones in order to get
people in the right paranoid mindset.  Will the homo-panic fliers
during the next campaign season show naked dolls in bed together? 
I suspect they’ll have to go there. 

The fears of atheism and dude
doin’ it hasn’t managed to help Dole’s campaign, though. 
In fact, Hagan
pulled out even further ahead of Dole in the polls,
capturing a 6 point lead going into
the weekend before election day, and this in a state with early voting. 
Dole no doubt thought the atheist ad would be an October surprise, but
unless she has a November surprise, her chances aren’t looking so
hot.  

Across the country, the culture
warrior campaign tactics seem to be losing their luster, after 40 years
of being the go-to way for candidates to turn an election away from
policy and towards begrudging your neighbor and resisting the future. 
Even in the Minnesota race, where anti-choice ads are helping keep Al
Franken close to incumbent Norm Coleman in the polls, the ads  seem lackluster
and uninspired, running through "child-killing" accusations
that have lost much of their power from toothless repetition.
Are Americans finally tired of being
terrorized with hyperbolic images of out-of-control godless liberalism? 
Or is it just a temporary blip, a result of an economic crisis that
makes policing your neighbor’s bedroom seem less important than it
used to?  No one can really say, and it will be years before we
know for sure what’s going on.

Analysis Politics

Koch Brothers Move to Influence Congressional and State Races

Ally Boguhn

The Kochs are poised to play a momentous role in financing hundreds of candidates across the country and launching attacks on those who oppose their goals. Given their network’s penchant for funding anti-choice politicians and causes, that's something that should deeply concern reproductive rights advocates.

Over the weekend, Charles and David Koch’s network of ultra-wealthy donors and the politicians they fund convened in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to strategize about how to push their message across the countrya meeting that should signal cause for alarm for those concerned with big money in politics.

At the event, Charles Koch, joined by at least 300 donors who had each committed at least $100,000 annually to the network, reportedly outlined plans to get those with similar political ideologies elected to office and to “cultivat[e] conservative leaders at the state level,” according to the Washington Post.

During the 2012 election cycle, the Kochs’ network raised an estimated $407 million to influence races. As the Post‘s Matea Gold noted in a 2014 report, that level of funding gave the Kochs and their supporters expansive and almost unparalleled room to try to exert political influence.

As Adele Stan reported for Rewire in 2013, such influence extended in part to anti-choice groups, who received millions from Koch-connected organizations during the 2010 midterm and 2012 presidential election cycles. In addition, Koch-linked organizations gave tens of millions of dollars to candidates who were almost entirely opposed to abortion rights.

“The resources and the breadth of the organization make it singular in American politics: an operation conducted outside the campaign finance system, employing an array of groups aimed at stopping what its financiers view as government overreach,” explained Gold in another article. “Members of the coalition target different constituencies but together have mounted attacks on the new health-care law, federal spending and environmental regulations.”

In 2015 the Kochs revealed during their annual winter donor retreat that their network planned to spend up to $900 million on the 2016 election cycle, according to the New York Times—a number so high that it “would put [the network] on track to spend nearly as much as the campaigns of each party’s presidential nominee.” Conservative news outlet National Review, however, reported in May that the billionaires had intended to scale back the scope of their electoral funding, instead “steering their money and focus away from elections and toward a slew of the more intellectual, policy-oriented projects on which they have historically lavished their fortune.”

Still, the Kochs are poised to play a momentous role in financing hundreds of candidates across the country and launching attacks on those who oppose their goals. The extent of their contributions is carefully concealed by the web through which they funnel money—consisting of political action committees, issue-advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations, and the like—but what has been reported thus far offers a small glimpse into their political influence.

Though the allocated total spending was downgraded, the Koch network is nevertheless on track to spend almost $750 million this election cycle, with about $250 million going to politics and the Koch groups that work on policy issues, including Americans for Prosperity and the Freedom Partners Action Fund.

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“The [Koch] network is and will continue to be fully engaged in 2016’s political and policy battles. We want to maximize the number of freedom-oriented Senators,” James Davis, a spokesman for the Koch network, told the Hill in June amid news that the network was moving to spend $30 million on ad buys. “We see that on a number of issues, particularly free speech, the current majority is far preferable to the alternative.”

According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org, which provides a comprehensive record of federal campaign contributions, the dark money group Americans for Prosperity—a 501(c)(4) that focuses on “citizen advocacy”—has spent at least $2,422,436 thus far on federal elections this cycle, investing in key Senate races in Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Most of that money, more than $1.9 million, has been spent in Ohio to oppose the state’s former Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, in his race against incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R). The two politicians have been locked in a tight battle for a critical seat that could help determine which party takes control of the Senate. The Koch-backed group launched a seven-figure ad buy last August focusing on Strickland’s tax policies as governor of Ohio.

Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC founded by the Kochs in 2014 to which they have directly given $6 million so far this cycle, has invested even more into opposing Strickland, spending more than $9.4 million in independent expenditures, according to the Sunlight Foundation’s Influence Explorer. As was the case with Americans for Prosperity’s spending, much of that funding went directly to gigantic television and digital ad buys, again hitting Strickland’s tax policies.

In Wisconsin, Americans for Prosperity has spent $66,560 in opposition to Democratic Senate candidate Russ Feingold in his race against incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. Freedom Partners Action Fund’s spending in that same race, meanwhile, totals $2,102,645 in independent expenditures to oppose Feingold. The latter group also spent another $5,500 in support of Johnson.

However, just after Johnson spoke at the Republican National Convention in late July, Freedom Partners Action Fund pulled the $2.2 million worth of airtime they had reserved for the candidate. The ads were slated to begin airing on August 3.

James Davis, speaking on behalf of the organization, claimed the decision did not mean the group was no longer backing Johnson. “We are realigning our television advertising strategy to ensure maximum impact across key Senate races,” Davis told the Huffington Post. “We will continue direct citizen outreach through our grassroots activists, volunteer phone calls, digital media and direct mail. Last weekend alone Network grassroots organizations made almost half a million contact attempts to targeted audiences.”

Americans for Prosperity has thus far spent $63,233 in Pennsylvania’s key Senate race opposing Democratic candidate Katie McGinty, who is running against incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R), while Freedom Partners has spent $3,518,492 in independent expenditures doing the same.

And in Nevada, Americans for Prosperity has spent $16,074 opposing Democratic candidate Catherine Cortez Masto, who is running against Republican Rep. Joe Heck for the seat being vacated by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D). Freedom Partners Action Fund has thus far spent $3,899,545 there opposing Cortez Masto. The group used much of that money pushing ads which were deemed by fact-checkers to be “mostly false,” alleging that as attorney general of the state, Cortez Masto had killed jobs by “driving” Uber out of Nevada. In truth, said Politifact, Uber only left temporarily and the ad “takes things out of context.”


Though the Kochs have seemingly failed to put much effort into House races thus far through Americans for Prosperity and the Freedom Partners Action Fund, there have been a few notable exceptions.

In early July, Americans for Prosperity geared up to launch a campaign aimed at aiding the re-election of Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), according to the Washington Post. The organization is reportedly not investing in paid media for the race, but it will be sending hundreds of staffers out to spread its message door to door. The Post reported that the 501(c)(4)’s goal in Colorado is to “help preserve the Republican majority by targeting districts where [Americans for Prosperity] already has staff and resources and can most efficiently affect voting outcomes, according to the group.” The group expects to spend six figures in the Colorado race.

Americans for Prosperity has already spent $62,384 thus far opposing the Democratic candidate for the House, state Sen. Morgan Carroll, in her race against Coffman.

The nonpartisan Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, which analyzes U.S. House, Senate, and gubernatorial campaigns, rates the Colorado 6th Congressional District as a toss-up, though it leans Republican.

Earlier in the year, Americans for Prosperity also spent $190,973 to defeat Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) in her failed bid for re-election. Ellmers lost her primary race for North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District in early June to her Republican colleague Rep. George Holding after redistricting in the state led the two to run against each other. Her defeat came amid targeting from anti-choice groups looking to unseat the representative despite her opposition to abortion, for reportedly speaking out against language in the House of Representatives’ 2015 20-week abortion ban that would have required rape victims to formally report their assault to police in order to be exempted from the law.

Koch Industries Inc. Political Action Committee (KOCHPAC), the political action committee for Koch companies, has invested almost all of its $1,209,900 in contributions to House Republican candidates. In total, the PAC has given $1,050,900 to 165 Republicans running for House seats and $8,500 to Democrats. The group has also given a total of $181,500 to 23 different Republicans running for the Senate, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), Sen. Rand Paul (KY), Sen. Roy Blunt (MO), and Sen. Mike Lee (UT).

What was outlined above is probably just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to other Koch-connected groups not listed here, there are likely also other forms of spending by the groups discussed that has gone undisclosed.

Take, for example, some of the Kochs’ state-level work. As the Brennan Center for Justice explained in a recent report on money in politics, “it is at the state and local levels that secret spending is arguably at its most damaging,” and that is where the Kochs are now shifting some of their attention.

Though “dark money” 501(c)(4) groups, including Americans for Prosperity, are not required to disclose all of their spending, media reports indicate that the organization’s affiliates are investing in local races. According to the Brennan Center’s analysis of six states with available spending data, “on average, only 29 percent of outside spending was fully transparent in 2014 in the states we examined, sharply down from 76 percent in 2006.”  Yet, the report notes, “dark money surged in these states by 38 times on average between 2006 and 2014.”

Exact numbers may be elusive, but there is no doubt the Kochs will have major influence on the 2016 election cycle. According to Rewire‘s analysis, spending from just three of the key Koch groupsFreedom Partners Action Fund, Americans for Prosperity, and KOCHPAChas already occurred in congressional races in 43 states across the country. Given the network’s penchant for funding anti-choice politicians and causes, that’s something that should deeply concern reproductive rights advocates.

News Abortion

Reproductive Justice Groups Hit Back at RNC’s Anti-Choice Platform

Michelle D. Anderson

Reproductive rights and justice groups are greeting the Republican National Convention with billboards and media campaigns that challenge anti-choice policies.

Reproductive advocacy groups have moved to counter negative images that will be displayed this week during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, while educating the public about anti-choice legislation that has eroded abortion care access nationwide.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, along with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), Trump’s choice for vice president, have supported a slew of anti-choice policies.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health is among the many groups bringing attention to the Republican Party’s anti-abortion platform. The New York City-based nonprofit organization this month erected six billboards near RNC headquarters and around downtown Cleveland hotels with the message, “If abortion is made illegal, how much time will a person serve?”

The institute’s campaign comes as Created Equal, an anti-abortion organization based in Columbus, Ohio, released its plans to use aerial advertising. The group’s plan was first reported by The Stream, a conservative Christian website.

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The site reported that the anti-choice banners would span 50 feet by 100 feet and seek to “pressure congressional Republicans into defunding Planned Parenthood.” Those plans were scrapped after the Federal Aviation Administration created a no-fly zone around both parties’ conventions.

Created Equal, which was banned from using similar messages on a large public monitor near the popular Alamo historic site in San Antonio, Texas, in 2014, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said in an interview with Rewire that Created Equal’s stance and tactics on abortion show how “dramatically out of touch” its leaders compared to where most of the public stands on reproductive rights. Last year, a Gallup poll suggested half of Americans supported a person’s right to have an abortion, while 44 percent considered themselves “pro-life.”

About 56 percent of U.S. adults believe abortion care should be legal all or most of the time, according to the Pew Research Center’s FactTank.

“It’s important to raise awareness about what the RNC platform has historically endorsed and what they have continued to endorse,” Miller told Rewire.

Miller noted that more than a dozen women, like Purvi Patel of Indiana, have been arrested or convicted of alleged self-induced abortion since 2004. The billboards, she said, help convey what might happen if the Republican Party platform becomes law across the country.

Miller said the National Institute for Reproductive Health’s campaign had been in the works for several months before Created Equal announced its now-cancelled aerial advertising plans. Although the group was not aware of Created Equal’s plans, staff anticipated that intimidating messages seeking to shame and stigmatize people would be used during the GOP convention, Miller said.

The institute, in a statement about its billboard campaign, noted that many are unaware of “both the number of anti-choice laws that have passed and their real-life consequences.” The group unveiled an in-depth analysis looking at how the RNC platform “has consistently sought to make abortion both illegal and inaccessible” over the last 30 years.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio last week began an online newspaper campaign that placed messages in the Cleveland Plain Dealer via Cleveland.com, the Columbus Dispatch, and the Dayton Daily News, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio spokesman Gabriel Mann told Rewire.

The ads address actions carried out by Created Equal by asking, “When Did The Right To Life Become The Right To Terrorize Ohio Abortion Providers?”

“We’re looking to expose how bad [Created Equal has] been in these specific media markets in Ohio. Created Equal has targeted doctors outside their homes,” Mann said. “It’s been a very aggressive campaign.”

The NARAL ads direct readers to OhioAbortionFacts.org, an educational website created by NARAL; Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio; the human rights and reproductive justice group, New Voices Cleveland; and Preterm, the only abortion provider located within Cleveland city limits.

The website provides visitors with a chronological look at anti-abortion restrictions that have been passed in Ohio since the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2015, for example, Ohio’s Republican-held legislature passed a law requiring all abortion facilities to have a transfer agreement with a non-public hospital within 30 miles of their location. 

Like NARAL and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Preterm has erected a communications campaign against the RNC platform. In Cleveland, that includes a billboard bearing the message, “End The Silence. End the Shame,” along a major highway near the airport, Miller said.

New Voices has focused its advocacy on combatting anti-choice policies and violence against Black women, especially on social media sites like Twitter.

After the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy, New Voices collaborated with the Repeal Hyde Art Project to erect billboard signage showing that reproductive justice includes the right to raise children who are protected from police brutality.

Abortion is not the only issue that has become the subject of billboard advertising at the GOP convention.

Kansas-based environmental and LGBTQ rights group Planting Peace erected a billboard depicting Donald Trump kissing his former challenger Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) just minutes from the RNC site, according to the Plain Dealer.

The billboard, which features the message, “Love Trumps Hate. End Homophobia,” calls for an “immediate change in the Republican Party platform with regard to our LGBT family and LGBT rights,” according to news reports.

CORRECTION: A version of this article incorrectly stated the percentage of Americans in favor of abortion rights. 

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