The GOP will have you know that they get it. Your message from the 2012 election came through loud and clear. No more crazy, loud, publicly open anti-choice candidates.
The era of Akin is over.
According to Politico, a fight is brewing in the Republican party as they try to find a way to bridge the gap between the favored Washington candidates who tend to be more electable but allegedly moderate, and the grassroots Tea Party or social conservatives who excite the base. For 2014, they may try to take a more unified approach, Tea Party Senate Leader Jim DeMint told Politco.
However, it might not necessarily be a matter of going with a candidate who has less extreme views. Instead, they may just be looking for candidates who are better at hiding their radical views.
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After watching the Akin and Mourdock implosions, some conservative leaders say better coaching is in order, too.
“We need to do a good job of recruiting; our candidates need more training, keep their foots out of their mouth,” DeMint told POLITICO. “There’s a reason why most politicians talk in sanitized sound bites: Once you get out of that, you’re opening yourself up to get attacked.”
As we learned in the 2012 election, Akin, Mourdock and others of their ilk aren’t the extreme wing of the party when it comes to reproductive rights. They are just more open about their views, and less couched in their language. Even the Politico piece has Republicans bemoaning the lost opportunity of having John Brunner or Sarah Steelman as the candidate, ignoring the fact that both Brunner and Steelman are just as adamantly opposed to abortion in cases as Akin was.
The difference? They didn’t talk about it as openly to the voters. For the GOP in 2014, that is the change they are looking for.
Democrats for Life of America leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradict each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party's platform is newly committed to increasing abortion access for all.
The national organization for anti-choice Democrats last month brought a litany of arguments against abortion to the party’s convention. As a few dozen supporters gathered for an event honoring anti-choice Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), the group ran into a consistent problem.
Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradicted each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party’s platform is newly committed to increasing access to abortion care for all.
DFLA leaders and politicians attempted to distance themselves from the traditionally Republican anti-choice movement, but repeatedly invoked conservative falsehoods and medically unsupported science to make their arguments against abortion. One state-level lawmaker said she routinely sought guidance from the National Right to Life, while another claimed the Republican-allied group left anti-choice Democrats in his state to fend for themselves.
Over the course of multiple interviews, Rewire discovered that while the organization demanded that Democrats “open the big tent” for anti-choice party members in order to win political office, especially in the South, it lacked a coordinated strategy for making that happen and accomplishingits policy goals.
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Take, for example, 20-week abortion bans, which the organization’s website lists as a key legislative issue.When asked about why the group backed cutting off abortion care at that point in a pregnancy, DFLA Executive Director Kristen Day admitted that she didn’t “know what the rationale was.”
Janet Robert, the president of the group’s executive board, was considerably more forthcoming.
“Well, the group of pro-life people who came up with the 20-week ban felt that at 20 weeks, it’s pretty well established that a child can feel pain,” Robert claimed during an interview with Rewire. Pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to legal abortion care before the point of fetal viability, Rogers suggested that “more and more we’re seeing that children, prenatal children, are viable around 20 to 22 weeks” of pregnancy.
Medical consensus, however, has found it “unlikely” that a fetus can feel pain until the third trimester, which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. The doctors who testify otherwise in an effort to push through abortion restrictions are often discredited anti-choice activists. A 20-week fetus is “in no way shape or form” viable, according to Dr. Hal Lawrence, executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
When asked about scientific findings that fetuses do not feel pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy, Robert steadfastly claimed that “medical scientists do not agree on that issue.”
“There is clearly disagreement, and unfortunately, science has been manipulated by a lot of people to say one thing or another,” she continued.
While Robert parroted the very same medically unsupported fetal pain and viability lines often pushed by Republicans and anti-choice activists, she seemingly acknowledged that such restrictions were a way to work around the Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion legal.
“Now other legislatures are looking at 24 weeks—anything to get past the Supreme Court cut-off—because everybody know’s it’s a child … it’s all an arbitrary line,” she said, adding that “people use different rationales just to get around the stupid Supreme Court decision.”
Charles C. Camosy, a member of DFLA’s board, wrote in a May op-ed for the LA Times that a federal 20-week ban was “common-sense legislation.” Camosy encouraged Democratic lawmakers to help pass the abortion ban as “a carrot to get moderate Republicans on board” with paid family leave policies.
Robert also relied upon conservative talking points about fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, which routinely lie to patients to persuade them not to have an abortion. Robert said DFLA doesn’t often interact with women facing unplanned pregnancies, but the group nonetheless views such organizations as “absolutely fabulous [be]cause they help the women.”
Those who say such fake clinics provide patients with misinformation and falsehoods about abortion care are relying on “propaganda by Planned Parenthood,” Robert claimed, adding that the reproductive health-care provider simply doesn’t want patients seeking care at fake clinics and wants to take away those clinics’ funding.
Politicians echoed similar themes at DFLA’s convention event. Edwards’ award acceptance speech revealed his approach to governing, which, to date, includes support for restrictive abortion laws that disproportionately hurt people with low incomes, even as he has expanded Medicaid in Louisiana.
Also present at the event was Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson (D), responsible for a restrictive admitting privileges law that former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed into law in 2014. Jackson readily admitted to Rewire that she takes her legislative cues from the National Right to Life. She also name-checked Dorinda Bordlee, senior counsel of the Bioethics Defense Fund, an allied organization of the Alliance Defending Freedom.
“They don’t just draft bills for me,” Jackson told Rewire in an interview. “What we do is sit down and talk before every session and see what the pressing issues are in the area of supporting life.”
Jackson did not acknowledge the setback, speaking instead about how such measures protect the health of pregnant people and fetuses. She did not mention any legal strategy—only that she’s “very prayerful” that admitting privileges will remain law in her state.
Jackson said her “rewarding” work with National Right to Life encompasses issues beyond abortion care—in her words, “how you’re going to care for the baby from the time you choose life.”
She claimed she’s not the only Democrat to seek out the group’s guidance.
“I have a lot of Democratic colleagues in my state, in other states, who work closely with [National] Right to Life,” Jackson said. “I think the common misconception is, you see a lot of party leaders saying they’re pro-abortion, pro-choice, and you just generally assume that a lot of the state legislators are. And that’s not true. An overwhelming majority of the Democrat state legislators in our state and others are pro-life. But, we say it like this: We care about them from the womb to the tomb.”
The relationship between anti-choice Democrats and anti-choice groups couldn’t be more different in South Dakota, said state house Rep. Ray Ring (D), a Hillary Clinton supporter at DFLA’s convention event.
Ring said South Dakota is home to a “small, not terribly active”chapter of DFLA. The “very Republican, very conservative” South Dakota Right to Life drives most of the state’s anti-choice activity and doesn’t collaborate with anti-choice Democrats in the legislature, regardless of their voting records on abortion.
Democrats hold a dozen of the 70 seats in South Dakota’s house and eight of the 35 in the state senate. Five of the Democratic legislators had a mixed record on choice and ten had a pro-choice record in the most recent legislative session, according to NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota Executive Director Samantha Spawn.
As a result, Ring and other anti-choice Democrats devote more of their legislative efforts toward policies such as Medicaid expansion, which they believe will reduce the number of pregnant people who seek abortion care. Ring acknowledged that restrictions on the procedure, such as a 20-week ban, “at best, make a very marginal difference”—a far cry not only from Republicans’ anti-choice playbook, but also DFLA’s position.
Ring and other anti-choice Democrats nevertheless tend to vote for Republican-sponsored abortion restrictions, falling in line with DFLA’s best practices. The group’s report, which it released at the event, implied that Democratic losses since 2008 are somehow tied to their party’s support for abortion rights, even though the turnover in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress can be attributed to a variety of factors, including gerrymandering to favor GOP victories.
Anecdotal evidence provides measured support for the inference.
Republican-leaning anti-choice groups targeted one of their own—Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)—in her June primary for merely expressing concern that a congressional 20-week abortion ban would have required rape victims to formally report their assaults to the police in order to receive exemptions. Ellmers eventually voted last year for the U.S. House of Representatives’ “disgustingly cruel” ban, similarly onerous rape and incest exceptions included.
If anti-choice groups could prevail against such a consistent opponent of abortion rights, they could easily do the same against even vocal “Democrats for Life.”
Former Rep. Kathy Dalhkemper (D-PA) contends that’s what happened to her and other anti-choice Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, which resulted in Republicans wresting control of the House.
“I believe that pro-life Democrats are the biggest threat to the Republicans, and that’s why we were targeted—and I’ll say harshly targeted—in 2010,” Dahlkemper said in an interview.
She alleged that anti-choice groups, often funded by Republicans, attacked her for supporting the Affordable Care Act. A 2010 Politico story describes how the Susan B. Anthony List funneled millions of dollars into equating the vote with support for abortion access, even though President Obama signed an executive order in the vein of the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition on federal funds for abortion care.
Dalhkemper advocated for perhaps the clearest strategy to counter the narrative that anti-choice Democrats somehow aren’t really opposed to abortion.
“What we need is support from our party at large, and we also need to band together, and we also need to continue to talk about that consistent life message that I think the vast majority of us believe in,” she said.
Self-described pro-choice Georgia House Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams (D) rejected the narratives spun by DFLA to supporters. In an interview with Rewire at the convention, Abrams called the organization’s claim that Democrats should work to elect anti-choice politicians from within their ranks in order to win in places like the South a “dangerous” strategy that assumes “that the South is the same static place it was 50 or 100 years ago.”
“I think what they’re reacting to is … a very strong religious current that runs throughout the South,” that pushes people to discuss their values when it comes to abortion, Abrams said. “But we are capable of complexity. And that’s the problem I have. [Its strategy] assumes and reduces Democrats to a single issue, but more importantly, it reduces the decision to one that is a binary decision—yes or no.”
That strategy also doesn’t take into account the intersectional identities of Southern voters and instead only focuses on appealing to the sensibilities of white men, noted Abrams.
“We are only successful when we acknowledge that I can be a Black woman who may be raised religiously pro-life but believe that other women have the right to make a choice,” she continued. “And the extent to which we think about ourselves only in terms of white men and trying to convince that very and increasingly narrow population to be our saviors in elections, that’s when we face the likelihood of being obsolete.”
Understanding that nuances exist among Southern voters—even those who are opposed to abortion personally—is instead the key to reaching them, Abrams said.
“Most of the women and most of the voters, we are used to having complex conversations about what happens,” she said. “And I do believe that it is both reductive and it’s self-defeating for us to say that you can only win if you’re a pro-life Democrat.”
To Abrams, being pro-choice means allowing people to “decide their path.”
“The use of reproductive choice is endemic to how we as women can be involved in society: how we can go to work, how we can raise families, make choices about who we are. And so while I am sympathetic to the concern that you have to … cut against the national narrative, being pro-choice means exactly that,” Abrams continued. “If their path is pro-life, fine. If their path is to decide to make other choices, to have an abortion, they can do so.”
“I’m a pro-choice woman who has strongly embraced the conversation and the option for women to choose whatever they want to choose,” Abrams said. “That is the best and, I think, most profound path we can take as legislators and as elected officials.”
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 country—a 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)’sgoal 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 groupslooking 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 groups—Freedom Partners Action Fund, Americans for Prosperity, and KOCHPAC—has already occurred in congressional races in 43 states across the country. Given the network’s penchant for fundinganti-choice politicians and causes, that’s something that should deeply concern reproductive rights advocates.