The Susan B. Anthony List claims (sometimes) that their goal is to get anti-choice women into office. Yet as their endorsements often prove, as long as there is a Republican to support and a Democratic woman to oppose, they are more than willing to back male candidates in high profile races.
Ryan’s keynote solidifies a record of never having had a female speaker headlining the event of an organization that supposedly supports women candidates. In the past five years of the gala, speakers have been Senator Marco Rubio, former Congressman and now Indiana Governor Mike Pence, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, actor and former Congressman Fred Thompson, and Rick Santorum, former Senator and failed presidential candidate.
To be fair, the pool of nationally-known Republican women politicians opposing abortion isn’t deep. The group also didn’t have many endorsed winners to choose from, either. Still, there are some definite possibilities, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), or Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla) all of whom have been at the forefront of pushing anti-choice federal legislation. In fact, Blackburn has even recently reintroduced the former Pence bill to defund Planned Parenthood, a bill that helped give Pence his national following.
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As Amanda Marcotte wrote eariler, as a group that says it supports women, the evidence is pretty doubtful. With a track record like theirs, that they would have yet another male politician headline their gala isn’t shocking in the least.
Just 158 families have provided nearly half of all the money donated to White House contenders so far. But the two families that have contributed the most to presidential campaigns also give prolifically to anti-choice groups and candidates.
Over the weekend, the New York Times published another piece in its series on who is financing the campaigns of this crop of presidential candidates.
The piece presented eye-popping new information: Just 158 families have provided nearly half of all the money donated to White House contenders so far.
But what the report didn’t mention was that the two families that have contributed the most to presidential campaigns also give prolifically to anti-choice groups and candidates. This is consistent with a little-noticed trend on which Rewire has been reporting for a while: the merging of political mega-donors with anti-choice activism. This fact is worth bearing in mind when listening to the anti-choice rhetoric being spouted by Republican presidential contenders.
At the top of the New York Timeslist is the Wilks family, the fracking barons who are cementing their place as arch-conservative mega-donors. According to the Times analysis, brothers Farris and Dan, and their spouses Jo Ann and Staci, have contributed a combined $15 million during this campaign so far in support of Ted Cruz’s campaign.
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Their choice of candidate should come as little surprise, given Cruz’s longtime alliances with the fundamentalist Christian right. For example, Cruz is a regular attendee of the Values Voters Summit, an annual gala held in D.C. by the Family Research Council, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a hate group for its virulent homophobia, among other things.
As Rewirehas previously reported, the Wilkses are significant anti-choice donors, and have also plowed millions into a program that seeks to indoctrinate school children and university students with their right-wing views.
While the Times did mention the Wilkses’ anti-choice stance in a list of donors that accompanied the main piece, it’s worth noting the extent of those activities.
The Wilks familyuses at least two foundations—the Thirteen Foundation and the Heavenly Father’s Foundation—to funnel donations to dozens of right-wing organizations, including crisis pregnancy centers, anti-choice advocacy groups, and religious organizations that oppose the right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term.
Records for those foundations show that the Wilkses have pumped at least $33 million into right-wing causes since 2010. Some of that largesse has gone to causes and candidates that support fracking. Despite the conservative rallying cries of local control and states’ rights, the Wilkses have been major backers of laws that prohibit local communities from attempting to ban fracking.
Second on the Times list are Robert Mercer, a Wall Street hedge fund manager, and his daughter, Rebekah Mercer. Also Cruz fans, the Mercers are reported to have given $11.3 million in campaign contributions so far.
Mercer is emerging as a conservative presence within the more traditionally liberal enclaves of New York City. Between 2005 and 2013, his foundation, the Mercer Family Foundation, contributed nearly $40.1 million to mostly conservative causes, including some prominent anti-choice groups, federal tax records show. Some of his giving has gone to neutral groups or causes, such as the Mayo Clinic or supporting ovarian cancer research. However, he gave $10.5 million to the anti-choice, right-wing Media Research Center between 2008 and 2013, as well as a quarter of a million dollars to the Becket Fundfor Religious Liberty, a legal group that takes on high-profile conservative cases.
What’s particularly interesting about the New York Times list is what it suggests about how the deluge of campaign cash is affecting the Republican Party in the wake of Citizens United.
The 2012 contest saw an unprecedented amount of money flow to presidential candidates, mostly conservatives. But instead of allowing the monied interests to shore up the election for Republicans by outspending Democrats, what resulted was a prolonged period of public infighting and mutual denigration that left the Republican candidates diminished in the public’s eye.
As Ken Vogel has pointed out in his reporting for Politico, as well as in his book Big Money, the new ability for billionaires to pick pet candidates and keep their campaigns afloat, despite poor public support, has had the ironic effect of damaging the Republican Party’s ability to put forth a candidate who can win the general election.
The rise of anti-choice donors to the top of the donors list indicates that this trend could increase in 2016—precisely what Republican Party officials and former kingmakers had hoped to avoid in the aftermath of 2012. In the wake of Mitt Romney’s defeat, Karl Rove called for a mechanism for the party to weed out weak candidates earlier in the process; the GOP establishment, in its “autopsy report” on the election, substantially agreed.
Another reason to believe the problem has been exacerbated for Republicans this time around is the absence of certain family names from the list of 158 top donors, suggesting that some of the heaviest hitters may be waiting to see which candidates to back. (For instance, Paul E. Singer, Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess are missing—they were some of the most significant political donors to competing Republican candidates in 2012.)
Most notably, the Kochs are missing from the list. Their name has become synonymous with the post-Citizens United era of dizzying sprays of money spurting in the direction of multiple candidates at once. Of course, this could be due to the byzantine methods they employ to channel contributions through multiple foundations and other nonprofits, often making it difficult or impossible for the public to learn who has backed which particular candidate or cause. In the last cycle, Koch-related money flowed to a nonprofit called the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which acted as a pass-through entity for millions of dollars in funding to many of the nation’s foremost anti-choice organizations.
With the manufactured controversy over Planned Parenthood having dominated politics over the summer, there is good reason to believe that the confluence of campaign cash and anti-choice donors could continue to propel Republican candidates to take positions on many issues—especially reproductive rights—that are at odds with the majority of American voters.
Planned Parenthood is certainly the target, but its destruction is not the goal, any more than destroying ACORN was the true goal back in 2008. Destruction would be a happy side effect, but the true goal is to destroy the pathway for women to have access to legal and safe abortions.
See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.
To understand exactly how the most recent Planned Parenthood attack was planned and coordinated, you must go back to 2013. In July of 2013, Washington, D.C. reporter David Corn revealed the existence of a high-powered group of people who viewed themselves as a conservative army fighting a war on multiple fronts. From the wife of a Supreme Court justice to the chief of staff for Sen. Ted Cruz, members of this group were determined to stop all progress before it could even begin.
They Called Themselves “Groundswell”
Just after Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, disappointed conservative thought leaders came together at the annual CPAC conference in Washington, D.C. to strategize. Demoralized but determined, they formed a plan to fight a “30-front war to fundamentally transform the nation.”
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In early 2013, they formed an email group to begin the process of organizing for action and messaging coordination. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’ key aide Danielle Cutrona was part of the group, as was Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Former UN Ambassador John Bolton, Breitbart News Editor John Nolte, Family Research Council officials Jerry Boykin and Ken Blackwell, Tea Party Patriots Founder Jenny Beth Martin, Washington, D.C. attorney and public relations expert Diana Banister, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, former Congressman Allen West, former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino, Frank Gaffney, and Ted Cruz staffer Max Pappas rounded out the top-tier of group participants, according to David Corn’s report.
They met weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch to hone their message and action plans. One meeting was secretly recorded, getting them on the record with regard to their desire to get a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack, mostly for the purpose of obtaining unlimited subpoena power.
Their goal was not merely to function as a messaging machine, but to “sync messages and develop action from reports and information exchanged,” according to the minutes of their March 27, 2013 meeting. “Going forward there should be an action item accompanying each report,” they concluded.
The purpose of the group was to collaborate and coordinate strategy and action for their multiple “fronts.” Shadow government assignments were made, committees were formed, and strategies were developed. All of this was done with participation and input from key congressional staffers working in the House and the Senate. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), now House Majority Whip, was the head of the conservative Republican Study Committee at the time. His staff routinely dropped in to tip off the group as to upcoming votes on key issues.One of the most active participants on the email list was Danielle Cutrona, who was a key staffer for Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Whenever there was a need for support or for opposition to legislation, or an investigation or opposition to a judicial nominee, these staffers would reach into the group in order to recruit members for messaging or action support.
Immigration reform, religious liberty, and judicial appointments were high on their list of priorities, and they enjoyed some successes. They got their Select Committee on Benghazi, they successfully opposed one of the president’s judicial nominees who was not sufficiently steeped in their idea of Second Amendment interpretation, and they were wildly successful with their attack on the Internal Revenue Service’s procedure for approving nonprofit organizations.
Blueprint for Activism
After David Corn broke the story of this group two years ago and audio of one of their weekly meetings became public, a blueprint for how to track coordination to advance its agenda, via messaging and action with key congressional aides, emerged.
One such example can be found in their effort to push the idea that the president was putting “politics over public safety” with regard to immigration reform.
Frank Gaffney penned a Washington Times op-ed titled “Putting Politics Over Public Safety.” Tom Fitton headlined a Judicial Watch weekly update “Politics over Public Safety: More Illegal Alien Criminals Released by Obama Administration.” Peter List, editor of LaborUnionReport.com, authored a RedState.com post called “Obama’s Machiavellian Sequestration Pain Game: Putting Politics Over Public Safety.” Matthew Boyle used the phrase in an immigration-related article for Breitbart. And Dan Bongino promoted Boyle’s story on Twitter by tweeting, “Politics over public safety?” In a message to Groundswellers, Ginni Thomas awarded “brownie points” to Fitton, Gaffney, and other members for promoting the “politics over public safety” riff.
All Eyes on Planned Parenthood
Groundswell is now two years old, having cut its teeth on the fight against Common Core and the 2014 elections. Its members are just now hitting their stride and the evidence can be seen in the latest series of Planned Parenthood videos, which were carefully timed and coordinated for maximum political gain.
Here’s a look at the timeline and principal players. To determine the rollout, I used archived pages from the aggregation site Memeorandum and checked hourly snapshots to see how the story spread.
On July 14, Lila Rose’s Live Action News posted the press release and video from the so-called Center for Medical Progress. One of the first to pick up the story in less than an hour from its release was Austin Ruse, for Breitbart News. Ruse is a member of Groundswell, as is Breitbart’s managing editor, Stephen Bannon.
The Daily Caller was next, where Ginni Thomas serves as a contributor. Thomas was one of the key drivers of messaging and issues inside the Groundswell group, assigning key phrases and terms to group members to use for action and articles.
The Washington Free Beacon, a new but well-funded online news site, was next up shortly thereafter with facts and figures about federal funding for Planned Parenthood, suggesting that it was time to withdraw that funding, based upon the not-yet debunked report from the CMP.
The Federalist, the Heritage Foundation’s “news site” posted a story about Hillary Clinton’s vocal support for Margaret Sanger, using the long-debunked claim that Sanger supported the extermination of the Black race because of her allyship with the eugenics movement. (The Heritage Foundation was being considered for membership in the group in March 2013, but was not present at the May Groundswell meeting.)
The story was spreading, but slowly. This was partly due to reports of David Daleiden’s ties to the now-disgraced and unreliable sting artist James O’Keefe, as well as his ties to racist and also-disgraced blogger Chuck Johnson.
When the story didn’t catch fire quickly enough, the Daily Caller reporter who had first reported the story came back around for a second shot, observing that Democratic candidates were largely silent on the issue of “alleged Planned Parenthood felonies.”
July 14 also happened to be the day many left-side activists and writers were en route to Phoenix, Arizona, for Netroots Nation, which is the largest gathering of political activists, operatives, and writers for the left. The release date meant that the story would have the benefit of several hours before any level of significant skepticism would register from Planned Parenthood or allies online.
Also on July 14: Anti-abortion extremists convened in Alabama, home state to Sen. Jeff Sessions. Some groups represented in Alabama are connected to David Daleiden and his front group used for the Planned Parenthood attack.
By the close of business on July 14, the story had been picked up by all of the conservative news outlets online, and it was beginning to spread throughout social media. The key phrase for this onslaught was “Planned Parenthood sells baby parts.” Each and every article uses that language to describe the CMP video.
On July 15, House Speaker John Boehner announced an investigation into the allegations on the video, which had already been shown to be false. Leading the charge on that front in the Senate: Ted Cruz.
On July 16, representatives admitted they had seen the video weeks before its release.
On July 17, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Tim Murphy sent a letter to Planned Parenthood requesting specific information about the fetal tissue program.
Family Research Council’s Jerry Boykin was not shy about reaching out to Congress for specific action. In the recording of Groundswell’s May 8, 2013 meeting, he outlined the contacts he had made—including a late-night hallway meeting with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)—to facilitate a select committee on Benghazi. Similarly, here we have a story based on edited video intended to attack Planned Parenthood with inflammatory rhetoric and repugnant images crafted to spark congressional action. That action came one day later, when John Boehner announced a congressional investigation into Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program. The investigation and ensuing releases of more edited video are intended to keep the extreme conservative base engaged and angry while inflicting deep harm on Planned Parenthood. Just as the Benghazi hearings were intended to harm Hillary Clinton’s credibility, so too are the Planned Parenthood attacks and congressional inquiries intended to keep the anti-abortion extremists engaged in the electoral process underway. Planned Parenthood is certainly the target, but its destruction is not the goal, any more than destroying ACORN was the true goal back in 2008. Destruction would be a happy side effect, but the true goal is to destroy the pathway for women to have access to legal and safe abortions. As this cabal of conservatives has demonstrated, their goal is to spur Congress to further ban abortions while also promoting Republican extreme conservatives in the 2016 field as the True Heroes for primary voters.
It should bother us all that the spouse of a sitting Supreme Court justice is involved in this level of coordination with everyone from media outlets to congressional staffers. It should bother us more that they are successful in their attempts to derail serious debate about serious issues by creating and promoting a video that does not prove what they claim to prove, in a calculating and manipulative way for the sole purpose of gaining an electoral advantage.