Analysis Politics

Sean Fieler, the Little-Known ATM of the Fundamentalist Christian, Anti-Choice Movement

Sharona Coutts

Since 2010, Sean Fieler, a New Jersey-based hedge fund manager and fervent Catholic, has personally contributed nearly $18 million to political candidates and causes that align with his anti-choice, anti-LGBT, and pro-theocracy views, according to an analysis of tax filings and campaign finance records by Rewire.

He’s a mega-rich member of the New York financial class who backs the Tea Party and rails against “elites.” He spends millions at a time funding extreme anti-government, anti-choice groups including the Susan B. Anthony List and Americans United for Life. He’s set up nonprofits that seem to act as pass-throughs for rivers of campaign cash.

And his last name is not Koch.

Since 2010, Sean Fieler, a New Jersey-based hedge fund manager and fervent Catholic, has personally contributed nearly $18 million to political candidates and causes that align with his anti-choice, anti-LGBT, and pro-theocracy views, quietly cementing himself as the ATM for the most extreme elements of the fundamentalist Christian and Catholic political machine, according to an analysis of tax filings and campaign finance records by Rewire.

“It’s enough money that folks ought to know who he has given to.”

Due to the opaque nature of federal and state disclosure laws, it’s impossible to know exactly how much any individual has given to political candidates, causes, and committees. Experts told Rewire, however, that $18 million places Fieler among the upper tier of political givers in the United States.

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“Whether he’s in the top ten or top 20, it’s impossible to say,” said Dale Eisman, spokesperson for Common Cause, a nonpartisan good government group. “It’s enough money that folks ought to know who he has given to.”

Fieler did not respond to Rewire’s requests for an interview, but our analysis of his public statements and financial contributions paints a picture of a man with extremely deep convictions, and the pockets to match. He has sprinkled funds amongst at least 77 candidates throughout 19 states, has almost single-handedly created a pass-through entity for funding extreme Catholic and Christian groups, and has laid the foundation for a policy center that appears intended to influence the Republican Party to bring ultra-conservative views to the center of its policies.

“When it comes to what are euphemistically referred to as the ‘social issues,’ we promise not to talk about life and marriage, the literal future and irreplaceable foundation of our society,” Fieler told his audience at last year’s annual gala for one of the nonprofits that he funds, the American Principles Project. “To win, we need but make one change, to emphasize, rather than run away from our principles.”

So ubiquitous is Fieler’s money, and so extreme are his views, that even other conservatives are willing to speak out against him.

“Very few people actually support the positions advocated by the groups that he funds but their funding is so massive that they’re able to project more strength than they actually have,” said Jimmy LaSalvia, a conservative strategist and commentator who formerly headed GOProud, a now-defunct group that advocated for LGBTQI people within the Republican Party. “Fewer and fewer conservatives are supporting such extreme social positions. The only thing keeping that movement alive is the funding because there isn’t popular support for those points of view.”

However, given Fieler’s wealth and the fervor of his convictions, it’s likely that he will have a growing influence on conservative politics and national political debates.

Fieler is the manager and co-owner of a financial firm called Mason Hill Advisors, which was formed on Christmas Eve of 2004. At of the end of 2013, the firm had more than $2 billion under management, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Fewer and fewer conservatives are supporting such extreme social positions. The only thing keeping that movement alive is the funding because there isn’t popular support for those points of view.”

The funds that Fieler manages through Mason Hill hold large amounts of stock in mining companies whose value depends largely on the value of silver and other metals.

Two such companies are MAG Corporation and Fortuna Silver Mines, both Canadian-based companies that operate in Mexico. (Fortuna also has sites in Peru.)

Like most hedge fund managers, Fieler and his partners take a percentage of their investors’ capital as fees, as well as a percentage of any profit they earn on those investments. While hedge funds are notoriously opaque, it’s clear that Fieler’s business has done well enough to enable him to shower dozens of candidates and a select few of his favored nonprofits with millions of dollars at a time.

The main beneficiary of Fieler’s generosity is the Chiaroscuro Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that says it aims to “offer the saving grace of Jesus to all while defending everyone’s unalienable right to exercise the religion of their own choosing.”

Fieler appears to have given nearly $13 million to the foundation since 2006, with contributions ramping up in 2010. In fact, Fieler appears to be the only significant contributor to Chiaroscuro, with all other contributions totaling less than $90,000.

“Chiaroscuro” refers to the style of painting from the 17th Century—made most famous by Caravaggio and da Vinci—that emphasized contrasts between light and dark. One can’t help but think the name is a metaphor for how Fieler, who is chair of the foundation, and the group’s president, Greg Pfundstein, see the world: in stark terms, where their views represent the light, and other views belong in the shadows.

In all, Chiaroscuro disbursed some $19.2 million to conservative, and mostly religious, organizations between 2011 and 2013, according to an analysis of the foundation’s own numbers, as well as publicly available documents. (Because Chiaroscuro did not reply to our request for comment, we cannot account for the discrepancies between what they have reported on their site, versus on their tax filings.)

Recipients of Chiaroscuro’s largesse include:

  • Nearly $1.2 million to EMC Frontline Pregnancy Centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, a type of anti-choice center known for bait-and-switch tactics that mislead pregnant women into believing they offer abortion, when in fact they exist to peddle anti-choice propaganda such as debunked claims about the health risks of the procedure.
  • $650,000 to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the nonprofit law firm that, along with the Alliance Defending Freedom, has played a central role in the scores of lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act.
  • $295,000 to the extreme anti-choice group Americans United for Life.
  • $275,000 for the Susan B. Anthony List, a key anti-choice group that funds misleading attack ads against pro-choice candidates, while also backing anti-choice candidates.
  • $100,000 to Live Action, the group run by Lila Rose, a young darling of the anti-choice movement, whose so-called “sting” operations on Planned Parenthood clinics and other progressive groups have veered between over-hyped and clownish.
  • $20,000 to the National Organization for Marriage, a leading group that opposes equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

(See complete lists of Fieler’s giving, both directly and through the multiple nonprofits he funds, here.)

But that is far from the full extent of Fieler’s giving. He has an entirely separate collection of entities known as the American Principles Project, with its affiliated groups, the American Principles Fund and American Principles in Action. According to public records analyzed by Rewire, Fieler appears to have given just shy of $1 million to American Principles in 2013 and 2014 alone.

American Principles paid nearly $800,000 in 2013 to 2014 for political advertisements attacking candidates for their stances on same-sex marriage and abortion. Key targets included Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, who is now a U.S. senator, as well as Elizabeth Cheney in her bid to win the Republican primaries to become a U.S. senator for Wyoming.

Why Fieler’s group would oppose Elizabeth Cheney—whose anti-gay rights views led to a bitter public conflict with her sister, Mary, who is a lesbian—is unclear.

“Regrettably, the Left’s spontaneous chant against life is not an aberration. It is part of a larger tension with human dignity that underlies their whole project.”

The third target of American Principles’ attack ads was Monica Wehby, a Republican challenger for a U.S. Senate seat from Oregon.

And then there’s Fieler’s personal giving, which he does directly in addition to the millions of dollars in contributions he makes to nonprofits and pass-through entities.

Since 2008, Fieler has contributed $2.5 million directly to 77 candidates in 19 states, including both state and federal races.

His largest contributions included denizens of the ultra-conservative movement. Ken Cuccinelli, the unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate for Virginia, received $72,000. Cuccinelli supports so-called personhood laws, an anti-choice legal Trojan horse that would criminalize abortion and many forms of contraception under the guise of giving fetuses the full rights of legal “persons.”

Other ultra-conservative stalwarts—Mike Pence, Scott Walker, and Carl Paladino—each received $20,000 or more.

Fieler also gave $2,500 to Richard Mourdock, the GOP candidate for a U.S. Senate seat for Indiana who torpedoed his 2012 campaign when he said that pregnancies resulting from rape are a “gift from God.”

And Fernando Cabrera, a New York City Council member and pastor who is running for New York state senate, received $6,500 from Fieler. Though a Democrat, Cabrera has recently made comments broadly understood to be praising the extreme anti-LGBTQI laws in Uganda. Cabrera, a former Republican, has also attended events held by the Family Research Council, a fundamentalist Christian organization that has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

If that isn’t wingnuttish enough, Fieler also gave $3,500 to Edward Ray Moore, an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in South Carolina, who believed children should be pulled out of “godless” and “pagan” public schools, which he characterized as “the enemy.” He spoke at a 9.12 Project rally (a Tea Party-aligned movement run by Glenn Beck) and was behind a documentary called IndoctriNation, which warned Christians about the evils of public education.

But of all the states, Fieler paid special attention to Utah, giving more than $70,000 to candidates there.

Why would a New York-based hedge fund manager feel so passionate about politics in Utah?

The answer appears to be linked to legislation recently passed in Utah, relating to one of Fieler’s pet causes.

Fieler is a fervent advocate of returning to the use of silver and gold coins as currency in the United States, believing that “honest money” will rein in what he sees as a rogue U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. These views put him in the company of cranks like Glenn Beck, who has been shilling gold to his audiences for years, even while the firm he promotes, Goldline, had to repay millions of dollars to clients in order to settle a 19-count criminal charge in a California court in early 2012.

Indeed, surprising as it may seem, of all the issues supported by Fieler, he has perhaps been most vocal on “honest money.”

American Principles in Action cites promoting “a return to the gold standard and sound money” as its first priority, and Fieler has spoken about silver and gold money at gala events, as well as during interviews with people such as the head of the Gold Money Foundation.

The group has been lobbying lawmakers throughout the states to introduce legislation to allow silver and gold to be used as currency, Fieler said in a June 2011 interview, and trying to figure out how to “mainstream” the idea.

An employee of American Principles, Steven Lonegan, last month wrote a column in which he called the “fight” to return to the gold standard, a “moral issue.”

(Lonegan is a former Koch operative, having worked for Americans for Prosperity. Fieler contributed $10,400 to Lonegan’s unsuccessful campaign for a U.S. Senate seat last year, before Lonegan joined American Principles, according to news reports.)

In 2012, Fieler gave $10,000 to Larry Hilton, an insurance executive and lawyer based in Provo who was running for state office in Utah, according to his LinkedIn account.

At around the same time, Utah’s governor signed a bill that legalized gold and silver coins as legal currency in Utah, making it the first such law in the nation.

Who drafted that bill? None other than Larry Hilton.

An editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune called the law “outlandish,” and reported that Hilton claimed in 2011 that gold and silver currency were necessary because “one dollar will be worth one penny in five years,” due to inflation.

“The GOP is the party of life, marriage and religious liberty. Conservatives adopted these issues because they believe in them. Republicans need to push them, and govern with them, not run from them, in order to attract Latino voters.”

On his declaration of candidacy for that race, Hilton said he was on the advisory board of American Principles in Action (though the nonprofit’s most recent available tax filings don’t list Hilton as a board member).

Since Utah’s law passed, TexasLouisiana, and Oklahoma have each implemented laws that make silver and gold currency legal tender, and that remove various taxes from transactions using those coins.

It looked as if Arizona was set to follow, with the legislature passing a similar bill in April 2013. However, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, citing practical concerns but no philosophical objection to returning to metal money.

Another ten states are considering similar laws, and a federal version was introduced in 2011 by then Sen. Jim DeMint, who later left Congress to lead the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) reintroduced the bill last year (there was also a House version), but it died in committee.

In all of the public speeches and editorials that Fieler has written calling for the use of silver and gold as currency, Rewire did not find a single instance where he disclosed that he invests in companies that profit from digging up the metal.

There is nothing illegal about Fieler backing silver as currency while also profiting from investing in companies that dig up the mineral, or even any obligation to disclose those interests in the course of his advocacy and lobbying work, according to Eisman, of Common Cause. Eisman says, however, that he would prefer if Fieler chose to make those disclosures.

“It would be nice if he did [disclose],” Eisman said. “It would be reassuring about his commitment to public service if he did.”

In addition to showing candidates and causes with cash, Fieler appears to be trying to establish his groups as thought leaders in the conservative movement.

In October 2013, American Principles released a white paper called “Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012.”

Unsurprisingly, the report concluded that Republicans should be more aggressive on “social” issues, such as abortion and marriage.

But it also contained some nuances that explain why Fieler could be such an interesting complement to the Koch brothers.

The report—also known as the “autopsy” of the 2012 Republican defeat—urges immigration reform because, it argues, Hispanics are natural conservatives who are currently alienated by the GOP’s stance on immigration.

If the party shifted on immigration, the report argues, it could “use values issues to attract Hispanics.”

“The GOP is the party of life, marriage and religious liberty,” the report says. “Conservatives adopted these issues because they believe in them. Republicans need to push them, and govern with them, not run from them, in order to attract Latino voters.”

Fieler himself occasionally claims that his “project is nonpartisan,” as he did at the American Principles Gala in 2013.

“If only, there will a little room in the Democratic Party for the unborn, we would willingly engage with them,” he told the room. But then he made known his true contempt for people who disagree with his own religious views. “Regrettably, the Left’s spontaneous chant against life is not an aberration. It is part of a larger tension with human dignity that underlies their whole project,” he said.

Apparently, Fieler’s view of human dignity includes denying reproductive rights to women, denying family rights to anyone other than married heterosexuals, allowing employers to impose their religious views on workers, and imposing fundamentalist Catholic orthodoxies on society writ large.

And given his growing influence in the conservative movement, it’s possible that his views will grow in dominance at both state and federal levels.

Brie Shea contributed research to this report. 

Roundups Politics

The House Freedom Fund Bankrolls Some of Congress’ Most Anti-Choice Candidates

Ally Boguhn

With the 2016 election cycle underway, the political action committee seems to be working tirelessly to ensure the House Freedom Caucus maintains a radical anti-choice legacy.

In its short existence, the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) has made a name for itself through endless efforts to push Congress further to the right, particularly when it comes to reproductive health. Now with the 2016 election cycle underway, the caucus’ political action committee, the House Freedom Fund, seems to be working just as tirelessly to ensure the caucus maintains a radical anti-choice legacy.

Since its founding by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) in January 2015, the group of ultra-conservative lawmakers that make up the caucus has ballooned from just nine members to at least 36 members, as of October 2015, who have confirmed their own inclusion—though the group keeps its official roster secret. These numbers may seem small, but they pack a punch in the House, where they have enough votes to block major legislation pushed by other parts of the Republican party.

And now, the group is seeking to add to its ranks in order to wield even more power in Congress.

“The goal is to grow it by, and I think it’s realistic, to grow it by 20 to 30 members,” Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), one of HFC’s founding members, told Politico in April. “All new members.”

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While the caucus itself reportedly does not endorse candidates, its unofficial PAC has already thrown money behind defending the seats of some of the group’s most notoriously anti-choice members, as well as a few new faces.

According to OpenSecrets.org, the Center for Responsive Politics’ campaign finance database, thus far in 2016, the House Freedom Fund has invested in seven congressional candidates currently vying to keep a seat in the House of Representatives: Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA), Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Scott Desjarlais (R-TN), Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ). The PAC’s website also highlights two candidates hoping to move from their state legislatures to the House: Republican Indiana state senator Jim Banks and Georgia state Senator Mike Crane. The PAC is also backing the Republican candidate for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, Mary Thomas; and Republican candidate for North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District, Ted Budd.

Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), who won a special election in early June to replace former House speaker John Boehner, also received funding from the PAC. He joined the House Freedom Caucus that same week.

The Republican Party actively works to deny access to virtually all forms of reproductive health care, so it is not surprising that the candidates supported by the House Freedom Fund, whose confirmed members are all members of the GOP, share similarly radical views on reproductive rights and health.

Here are some of the House Freedom Fund’s most alarming candidates:

Rep. Rod Blum

Rep. Blum, a freshman congressman from Iowa, considers his opposition to reproductive choice one of the “cornerstones” of his campaign. “It is unconscionable that government would aid in the taking of innocent life. I strongly oppose any federal funding for abortion and I will vote against any of our tax dollars flowing to groups who perform or advocate abortions on demand,” asserts Blum’s campaign site. The Hyde Amendment already bans most federal funding for abortion care.

Blum spent much of his first year in the House attempting to push through a series of anti-choice bills. The representative co-sponsored the medically unsupported Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would have enacted a federal ban on abortion at or beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy, in January 2015. He signed on as a co-sponsor for the failed Life at Conception Act, a so-called personhood measure that would have granted legal rights to fetuses and zygotes, thus potentially outlawing abortion and many forms of contraception, in March of that year. That July, Blum co-sponsored the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, which would have stripped the reproductive health organization of all federal funding for one year so that Congress could investigate it in the wake of the Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) discredited videos smearing the provider. 

Blum’s co-sponsorship of anti-choice legislation was accompanied by a long series of like-minded votes throughout 2015, such as a January vote in favor of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015, which, among other things, would have made the Hyde Amendment’s annually renewed ban on most federal funding for abortion care permanent. He also voted to block Washington, D.C.’s Reproductive Health non-discrimination law, and in favor of a measure allowing states to exclude from Medicaid funding any health provider that provided abortions, as well as other anti-choice measures.

Blum’s brief time in Congress has been marked by such extremism that Emily’s List, an organization that works to elect pro-choice women, put Blum on their “On Notice” list in July 2015, signaling their intention to prioritize unseating the Iowa Representative. “In less than five months into the 114th Congress, we have seen Representative Blum lead the crusade to restrict women’s access to healthcare, most notably when he cosponsored a national abortion ban,” explained the organization in a press release on its decision to target Blum. “It’s clear that Congressman Blum is more focused on prioritizing an extreme ideological agenda over enacting policies that benefit more women and families in Iowa’s First Congressional District.”

Rep. Dave Brat

Rep. Dave Brat gained notoriety for his win against incumbent representative and then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014, a victory considered one of “the biggest political upset[s] in recent memory.” Like many of his HFC colleagues, Brat has co-sponsored several pieces of anti-choice legislation, including the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in 2015 and the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, which claimed to “protect” against “governmental discrimination against providers of health services” who refuse to provide abortion care. Brat’s voting record in Congress earned him a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee.

In April of this year, the Virginia representative signed on to a letter with Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other anti-choice legislators, such as House Freedom Fund candidate Rep. Meadows expressing “serious concerns” about the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to update the label of abortion drug mifepristone to bring it in line with scientific research and evidence-based medicine. Though medication abortions are safe and result in complications in fewer than 0.4 percent of patients, the lawmakers nonetheless claimed that the regulation change could be dangerous, noting that the drug was originally approved during the Clinton administration and demanding a list of information about it.

In the wake of the deadly shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility in November, when the alleged shooter parroted the same violent rhetoric about the reproductive health organization popularized by the CMP’s discredited videos, many in Congress called for the panel investigating Planned Parenthood to be disbanded and for lawmakers to distance themselves from the videos. Brat, however, saw no reason the anti-choice violence should affect the conservative crusade to shut down access to reproductive health care. “Principles are principles,” Brat said at the time according to the Huffington Post. “They don’t change on a news cycle.”

Rep. Tim Huelskamp

Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp has been an anti-choice advocate since graduate school, when, according to the biography provided on his website, he was “active in assisting women in crisis pregnancies” while working toward a doctoral degree at American University. His advocacy continued as he made his way to Congress, eventually leading him to become the congressional “Pro-Life Caucus” whip.

Though he has cast plenty of anti-choice votes, the congressman’s most notable moment when it comes to reproductive rights may be a 2012 speech on the House floor, in when he compared abortion to slavery and accused Planned Parenthood and the Obama administration of being racist. “Perhaps the biggest war against our liberties is the war that is being waged against those that are not here today, the unborn,” claimed Huelskamp. “Besides slavery, abortion is the other darkest stain on our nation’s character and this president is looking for every way possible to make abortion more available and more frequent. And he wants you to pay for it. Even if you disagree with it.”

Huelskamp went on to falsely accuse Planned Parenthood of targeting people of color. “I am the adoptive father of four children, each of them either Black, Hispanic, Native American, and I am incensed that this president pays money to an entity that was created for the sole purpose of killing children that look like mine; a racist organization and it continues to target minorities for abortion destruction,” said the congressman. “Shame on this president and shame on that party.”

It wouldn’t be the last time Huelskamp exploited race in order to promote his anti-choice agenda. In 2015, the Kansas Representative lashed out at those who accepted awards from Planned Parenthood, tweeting that they were supporting a “racist” agenda.

Rep. Mark Meadows

Rep. Mark Meadows, who has a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee, co-sponsored anti-choice measures such as the House’s 2015 fetal pain bill, the 2015 Life at Conception Act, and the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2016 (PRENDA). He also once badgered a pregnant doctor testifying during a House committee hearing about the importance of offering maternity coverage through the Affordable Care Act. However, the congressman’s recent vendetta against Planned Parenthood stands out the most.

In July 2015, in the wake of CMP’s deceptively edited videos, Meadows latched onto the discredited films in order to justify defunding Planned Parenthood. “In addition to cutting funding for abortion providers, I strongly urge Congress to investigate the legality of the practices engaged in by Planned Parenthood,” said Meadows at the time.

In September, as Congress faced the looming threat of a possible government shutdown if they didn’t pass a budget bill, Meadows exploited the opportunity to push for Planned Parenthood to be defunded, no matter the cost. With the South Carolina congressman leading the charge, pressure from conservatives to pull funding for the reproductive health-care provider played a role in prompting then-House Speaker John Boehner to resign his position. Meadows was a co-sponsor of the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, which passed in the House as part of a compromise to narrowly escape the shutdown. 

But Meadows’ quest to attack Planned Parenthood didn’t end there. In September, the congressman also participated in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing to “examine the use of taxpayer funding” by Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, a sham hearing used by the GOP to repeatedly push misinformation about the organization.

Rep. Scott Desjarlais

Rep. Scott Desjarlais, a medical doctor, is perhaps best known for his attempt to pressure his patient, with whom he was having an affair, into having an abortion when she became pregnant. While the congressman has repeatedly run on his anti-abortion credentials, his divorce papers also revealed he had supported his wife in having two abortions. Politico‘s Chas Sisk labeled DeJarlais  “the biggest hypocrite in Congress.”

Desjarlais made headlines again in 2015 for voting for a later abortion ban. A spokesperson for the Tennessee Republican told the Times Free Press that the vote was in accordance with the congressman’s record:

“Congressman DesJarlais was proud to vote in favor of this legislation,” said his spokesman Robert Jameson, who added that DesJarlais has maintained a “100 percent pro-life voting record” during his five years in Congress and “has always advocated for pro-life values.”

Indiana State Sen. Jim Banks

Indiana state Sen. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City) is one of the few candidates backed by the House Freedom Fund that has yet to win federal office, but his time in the state legislature has given him more than ample opportunity to demonstrate his opposition to reproductive health and rights.

Banks’ campaign website highlights the candidate’s “pro-life” position as a key issue for his race for the House, providing an extensive record of his anti-choice credentials and claiming that he is “running for Congress so that northeast Indiana continues to have a strong voice for innocent lives in Washington, D.C.” That page includes a laundry list of campaign promises, including amending the U.S. Constitution to give a fetus legal human rights, which could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception; banning federal funding for abortion, though such a ban already exists; eliminating federal funding for any organization that performs abortions domestically or abroad; and opposing any change to the Republican platform on abortion.

The state senator’s site goes on to suggest that “it has been far too long since the Supreme Court discovered that women have a ‘right’ to have an abortion,” lamenting that much of the anti-choice movement’s work to shutter access to abortion in state legislatures hasn’t been replicated on a federal level and promising to address the issue if elected.

Included in his anti-choice resumé is a note that both Banks and his wife have been working in the movement to oppose choice since graduating college, when the two joined Focus on the Family, an organization that has spent millions of dollars promoting its extreme agenda, even devoting $2.5 million to run an anti-abortion ad during the 2010 Super Bowl. The two also worked together on the Allen County Right to Life Board of Directors, and Banks’ wife, Amanda, remains the board’s vice president.

But most extreme of all was the legislation Banks spearheaded while in the state legislature, which included several targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) measures. Most recently the state senator sponsored Indiana’s SB 144, a bill that would modify the state’s 20-week abortion ban to outlaw the procedure once a fetal heartbeat could be detected, typically around six weeks’ gestation. In a statement on the bill, Banks claimed the law was needed because it “would protect unborn Hoosiers’ right to life and also includes important women’s health protections.”

News Science

California Lawmaker: Root Out Anti-Choice Misinformation in Nurse Courses

Nicole Knight Shine

An Rewire investigation found that anti-choice groups were taking advantage of loopholes and lax oversight to teach nurses dubious medicine.

A California bill introduced this month requires continuing education courses for nurses to be based in fact, after Rewire revealed that national organizations were teaching classes containing anti-choice ideology.

SB 1039, introduced by state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), mandates that classes taken to maintain state licensure be based on “generally accepted scientific principles.”

“At the end of the day, this will ensure that any continuing education courses offered to the nursing profession are professional and based on sound scientific research and evidence,” Hill told Rewire.

The omnibus reform bill imposes new safeguards in nursing education, directing the Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) to audit continuing education providers at least once every five years and to withhold or rescind approval from those found in violation of state laws and regulations.

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An Rewire investigation published in January described how some of the nation’s more prominent abortion opponents gained the approval of the BRN to teach continuing education courses on subjects such as “abortion pill reversal”—a treatment rejected by the medical establishment—and other scientifically unsupported topics.

The providers were capitalizing on a loophole in state law and lax oversight. Current law requires continuing education course materials to “be related to the scientific knowledge and/or technical skills required for the practice of nursing, or be related to direct and/or indirect patient/client care.” The board, however, doesn’t actually approve the materials that providers teach.

And, even though the law provides for it, the BRN failed to audit a single continuing education provider between 2001 and 2014, according to a 2015 joint oversight report prepared for the state Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development and the Assembly Business and Professions Committee.

Continuing education credits are required of nurses and doctors to maintain licensure in California. The BRN regulates more than 400,000 California licensees, such as nurses and nurse practitioners, and continuing education providers. State law requires the BRN to vet the providers, which range from private companies to universities.

Rewire reviewed the state-approved applications of three organizations—Heartbeat International, Care Net, and National Institute of Family and Life Advocates—and found the providers failed to disclose to the board the medically questionable subjects they taught to nurses.

Stephanie Roberson, lead lobbyist with the 85,000-member California Nurses Association, said the union was reviewing the reform bill ahead of a committee hearing expected in March.

“We believe, of course, that there should be proper oversight of continuing education courses and providers,” Roberson told RH Reality Check.

Calls for reform of the BRN aren’t new.

The 2015 oversight report laid out more than a dozen reforms, telling the board to tighten the standards applied to continuing education (CE) classes and continuing ed providers (CEP):

ISSUE #14: (OVERSIGHT OF CONTINUING EDUCATION FOR LICENSEES) The BRN has not provided appropriate oversight of its continuing education program despite admonition to do so in the previous review.

The BRN should review its criteria for CEPs and require content to be science-based and directly related to professionally appropriate practice. The BRN should continue to pursue additional staffing for CE auditors, but should simultaneously rebalance its existing workload and prioritize ongoing CE and CEP audits.

The BRN responded that it’s running out of money and, without a fee hike, may need to cut staff. In the past few years, the BRN has loaned the state General Fund $13.3 million, and has been paid back $3 million.

Roberson said the BRN has asked for more staff to perform audits.

”We hope that happens,” she said. “We want to make sure that the board has adequate staff to do its job.”

The Ohio-based anti-choice group Heartbeat International last year offered the class “Abortion Pill Reversal and Your Clinic” for continuing education credit to nurses at a St. Louis conference.

An “Abortion Pill Reversal and Your Clinic” course was among those available for health-care workers at the Heartbeat International conference in St. Louis.

An “Abortion Pill Reversal and Your Clinic” course was among those available for health-care workers at the Heartbeat International conference in St. Louis.

Heartbeat International is the umbrella group for 1,800 crisis pregnancy centers around the world whose expressed mission is “saving babies.”

The organization, and other abortion rights opponents, have treated the notion of “abortion pill reversal,” or undoing a pill-induced abortion, as medically feasible.

A Heartbeat International representative told Rewire in a statement: “There are 150 children alive today—and 80 more on the way—because of the RU-486 reversal process. It might be helpful to add that those ‘accepted scientific principles’ one generation has thought unmovable have been thoroughly disproven and discredited by the next. ‘Scientific principles’ always allow for innovation and progress.”
 

But the science behind abortion pill reversal is thin.

single 2012 paper in Annals of Pharmacotherapy claimed to have reversed the medication abortions of four of six women included in the study. Medical experts, such as those at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), say the six cases cited in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy paper are not enough to draw conclusions.

“There is really no clear evidence that this works,” Dr. Daniel Grossman, ACOG fellow and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, a research group at the University of California, San Francisco, said in an interview with MedPage Today.

As previously reported by Rewire, Care Net, another national anti-choice organization approved to teach CE classes to nurses, offered the class, “Fetal Pain: What’s the Evidence?” in San Diego last year.

ACOG has said that fetal pain is unlikely before the third trimester and “no studies since 2005 demonstrate fetal recognition of pain.”

Dr. Sandra Christiansen taught “Fetal Pain: What’s the Evidence?” in San Diego; her name also appeared on Care Net’s nine-year-old state application to teach classes. But the application did not list the fetal pain class, making it difficult to evaluate the content of Christiansen’s classes for nurses.

What is clear is that Christiansen gave testimony two years ago in support of Maryland’s Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, an attempt to ban abortion care after 20 weeks.

Hill, chair of the state Senate Committee on Business, Professions, and Economic Development, said that following Rewire’s investigation, BRN officials said the board would issue cease-and-desist letters to Care Net and the two other providers.

“And we have not seen evidence of that,” Hill said Tuesday.

Heartbeat International, Care Net, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates remain on the BRN’s website in good standing.

Rewire filed a Public Records Act request for recent documents and communications between the board and these three providers. The BRN denied that request last week, citing “section 6254 of the Government Code, relating to records of complaints made to and investigations conducted by a state licensing agency.”

Hill maintains the providers “slipped through the cracks because of a lack of auditing and oversight on behalf of the board.” He said more work is needed to hold the board accountable.

“My job is now what’s the best way to get to that goal,” he said.