Religious Right and Covert Funding Fuel Attack on Abortion and Women's Freedom in South Dakota
cyncooper printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Nov 04, 2006 at 02:11:12 PM EST
In downtown Rapid City, South Dakota, only a week ago, I saw a banner, ten feet high and not easily raised, flying over the entranceway to a church.  It called upon people to support a near total ban on abortion in the state, a measure that is on the Tuesday ballot. But the reality of the religious right campaign against women's rights in the state became fully apparent with the release of campaign finance reports this week by the South Dakota Secretary of State.  I included religious right funding in a Special Report on Women's eNews. Details are below, as well.

But South Dakota media have avoided the issue, just as they have tip-toed over a series of infuriating lies and deceptions of the anti-abortion campaign.  Late this week, the media finally awakened to a disturbing scandal of vast sums of covert anti-abortion campaign funding funneled through a shell corporation set up by Republican State Rep. Roger W. Hunt, the sponsor of the anti-abortion legislation. (Jack Abramoff has nothing on Hunt.) It may be a case of media attention that is too little, too late.

The religious right funding and the slick but untruthful advertisements of the anti-abortion campaign, known as Yes for Life tell an even bigger story.

They show how much the right wing has invested in overturning women's reproductive freedom and that South Dakota is only the starting point.  The vast outpouring of religious right and church funds, combined with campaign-lie advertising in the Willie Horton and Swift Boat mold, is the future we will experience if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

South Dakota, and the country, should wake up.

They would, too, if it were not for a state media that is either in league with the religious right or so compliant as to be just plain wimpy.  It is not at all clear that voters will have accurate information in their hands before the election..

To step back for a moment, the ballot measure is Referred Law 6.  If passed, it would place a total ban on all abortions in all circumstances except to save imminent death of the pregnant woman.  The law also gives a right to life to a pre-zygote, defining the beginning of life as a sperm and egg union, and granting it constitutional rights under state law.  The ban was introduced by Rep. Hunt last winter and signed by the governor in March.  Vote Yes on Life is the campaign to support this ban, headed by Leslee Unruh, executive director of the SD Campaign for Healthy Families is the lead group opposing the ban.

Even as James Dobson's Focus on the Family, Janet Folger's Faith2Action, Alan Keyes. and Rich Scarborough see flyer on right for Mount Rushmore religious right rally, Nov. 4) and American Life League's Rock for Life stump the state for the ban on abortion to be inscribed into law, the theocratic bent of the ban has not been discussed in the local or national media (Talk2Action is the exception).  What it means for the breakdown between the separation of church and state is completely overlooked.

But a review of those contributing to the Vote Yes for Life campaign gives a pretty good indication of who wants this law, and the religious right and religiously-based groups are deeply involved in pushing this governmental interference into women's lives.

From Women's eNews under the sub-heading "Religious Groups Send Funds Too":

The campaign report by Yes for Life also indicates the extent to which it is fueled by religious advocacy groups and religious organizations, which provided an additional half million dollars of its funding.

Among the donors are the religious advocacy groups American Family Association in Tupelo, Miss., and Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colo., which gave $150,000 and $60,000, respectively. The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal association, donated $80,750, of which $70,000 was wired from an unreported location.

Operation Rescue in Kansas, a group known for aggressive anti-abortion protests, delivered $2,500. The Rev. Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority in Lynchburg, Va., issued an appeal to followers to donate to the Yes for Life campaign, calling it a "historic battle" that "will affect the future of America." Faith 2 Action in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a Christian group that features a picture of a fetus and a South Dakota ad on its Web site, delivered $18,505. Marlin Maddoux's National Center for Freedom and Renewal in Dallas, Texas, which describes itself as a "Christ-centered advocacy" organization on its Web site, donated $15,000.

Individual churches or church organizations, including the Catholic Chancery Office; in Sioux Falls, S.D., and churches in Oklahoma, Washington and Missouri, were responsible for $153,000 in donations. The Catholic organization, American Life League, from Stafford, Va., provided $6,000 in stickers and claimed in the Conservative Voice online that it "has had people working in South Dakota for most of this year."

Right-to-life groups, generally Catholic, sent $16,700 in donations and the Baptist Seminary in Sioux Falls offered apartments for "out-of-state volunteers," the Yes for Life campaign reported in its campaign filing. Crisis pregnancy centers--which provide services to pregnant women to persuade them not to have abortions--made donations of $2,300.

The full list of anti-abortion donors also shows that $20,000 came from the right-wing Christian group Citizens for Community Values in Cincinnati. The ultra-right religious group in Washington, D.C., Concerned Women for America, also put $500 in the ban bucket and founder Beverly LaHaye made radio ads for local stations, urging South Dakotans to vote for the ban. "All of America, and even the world, is watching," she said. Not even counted in my calculations of religious-right donors are individuals who identify themselves as employees of similar groups, including of Coral Ridge Ministries, Christian bookstores, churches -- even a priest from out-of-state.

The other scandal in anti-abortion campaign financing is also incredibly outrageous. Reporting shows three separate donations from a company called Promising Future, Inc.  The company was incorporated as a one-man corporation in mid-September by Roger Hunt, the self-same initiator of the abortion ban.  The incorporation papers declare that the purpose of the corporation is to invest in real estate and to promote ballot measures.  Despite reporting in South Dakota intended to inform voters of who is behind the funding of ballot measures, Promising Future managed to give the largest donation to the campaign on either side -- three quarters of a million dollars in three separate donations of $250,000 -- without disclosing the source of the money. In an interview, Secretary of State Chris Nelson, a Republican, said that corporations who donate to ballot committees are required to file a report and declare the source of the funding. Failure to do so is a crime, he said.

The state's largest newspaper, the Argus Leader , on Saturday (Nov. 4) called upon Hunt to reveal the name of the donor and stop skirting campaign finance laws.

Political donations simply must be public. It's a matter of openness, honesty and democracy. Voters have a right to know who's trying to influence them.

State Rep. Roger Hunt is frustrating that basic tenet of our electoral system, hiding behind what he admits is a sham corporation....

Hunt must follow the law and disclose who donated the money. It's a matter of openness. Democracy. And honesty.

Voters have a right to know who's trying to influence them. Hunt has no right to keep that secret.

But the newspapers have ducked like crazy in offering any other scrutiny of the anti-abortion campaign, including deception, lies, disdain for the facts, and intimidation and harassment of those who oppose the abortion ban -- ordinary citizens, campaign workers and especially pro-choice pastors, organized into a new group, Pastors for Moral Choices.  One pastor said:  "The pro-Amendment 6 forces took over our clergy Association meeting. They distributed signs ... (which are) posted on at least one church lawn. I refused to take to these signs, and listened respectfully to what was being said.  A pastor spoke, basically stating that the pro-choice people are the devil's disciples. I was very disturbed when I left the meeting." Other pastors report incendiary emails and calls, telling them that they are unfit to serve in their capacities.

Even though pro-choice forces in South Dakota have a several-point advantage in the polls, it is not at all clear that they can overcome the vast involvement of churches, organized and mobilized to use the government to force women to follow their beliefs. No watchdogs are insisting upon accountability.  Nor is it clear that pro-choice forces can match the funds delivered by the religious right from around the country, and from hidden financing such as that provided to Hunt.

Not only South Dakotans, but the nation will suffer if these tactics, simultaneously overbearing and underhanded, are successful in snookering a vote to support an abortion ban that will secure and encourage religious right control.

Television advertising by the anti-abortion group, Vote Yes for Life, is also maddening.  Although the anti-abortion ban is heralded by anti-abortion forces across the country because it has no exceptions, even for women who are raped or have health concerns, an ad by the Vote Yes for Life (viewable at the group's website), features a group of doctors (no gyns) who say that there IS an exception to abortion for rape victims, and refers to emergency contraception, a birth control pill.

Tv stations continue to run this ad, despite complaints, and the newspapers have seriously discussed whether a birth control pill is an exception to a near total ban on abortion.

I'd love to know what advertising firm made these ads.

by cyncooper on Sat Nov 04, 2006 at 03:23:29 PM EST

might matter less than the names of the doctors who suited out in their white coats to commit a crime by lying to the public on behalf of "Vote Yes for Life."

In the new ad for Vote Yes for Life, South Dakota physician Mark Rector says "This measure does provide exception for the life and the health of the mother."

Case in point: Mark Rector is the son-in-law of the egregiously unscrupulous Leslee Unruh.

by moiv on Sun Nov 05, 2006 at 06:01:20 PM EST

Cyn, you have done a GREAT job on this story.

by moiv on Sun Nov 05, 2006 at 06:02:33 PM EST
I hope readers will do everything they can to get it to people they think should see it.

Here are a few thoughts:  

-- blog about it where you can, or encourage bloggers you know.

-- let SD bloggers know about it

-- let SD media know about it. The email addresses of editors and reporters are usually available on web sites.

-- use the email icon on this story to send it to people you know who should know about it and can make a difference.

And don't wait. Do it now. I am going to send to a prochoice list serve I am on right now.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Nov 05, 2006 at 06:50:41 PM EST

Thanks for any "spreading out" ideas.  This issue needs ALL of the light and air that it can get.  The lies and deceptions are many, and the lack of corrective actions few.  South Dakotans are really being cheated by lies and manipulation, but the rest of the country will suffer horribly, and the future of the reproductive freedom is imperiled by it.

by cyncooper on Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 08:14:22 AM EST


by cyncooper on Sat Nov 04, 2006 at 05:23:06 PM EST

has this report on Dobson's November 4 rally.

James Dobson showed to a crowd of a few hundred, in the venue that holds 2500. Dobson filled stadiums back in 2004 when he was stumping for Thune and brought his hate-fest message to town. Dobson's relevance is waning and the recent scandal surrounding his partner in the "values" crusade Ted Haggard really makes Dobson look like a total idiot. While the head of the Evangelical churches and partner in crime for Dobson has been exposed in the last week for his three year involvement with a gay prostitute, Dobson tried to again pass off his "hate gay people" marriage garbage.

There was also much whining by various speakers at the event that John Thune was not there blindly supporting their screwed up causes. The repeated comment was how angry they were that the Senator they thought they had bought and paid for was not doing their bidding. Doesn't this bring their honesty and morality into question if they as a group thought they had bought a Senator? Thune was right in expressing his concern for the total lack of any exceptions in the ban and that he would vote no.

This comment from Dobson is comedy gold though, if there is any doubt they thought they had bought themselves a Senator.
"A lot of people worked very hard to get Thune elected to the senate and gave him a lot of money, Dobson said."

Thune has been notably absent from the state during this entire mess. Who can blame him?

Buying Senators, illegal laundered campaign contributions, lying to the public about the law. This is what your supporting if you are foolish enough to vote yes on this ban.

by moiv on Sun Nov 05, 2006 at 08:57:50 PM EST

For the Record:  South Dakota voters strongly rejected the ban on abortion passed by the legislature and signed by the governor on the November 7, 2006 ballot measure.

According to the BBC:

Voters in South Dakota have rejected a near total ban on abortion in one of the highest profile state referendums taking place alongside the US polls.

According to Megen Meyers at the South Dakota Argus Leader S.D. rejects abortion ban; Opponents say 'strong message sent'

South Dakota voters on Tuesday firmly rejected a law banning nearly all abortions, but supporters of the measure vowed to continue pushing to further restrict abortion in the state.

With 91 percent of the state's precincts reporting, 55 percent opposed the abortion ban while 45 percent supported it.

Tuesday's vote ended a heated campaign that had drawn extensive national attention while dividing the state's medical and religious communities. Campaign spending trying to sway voters totaled nearly $4 million.

The South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, the group that forced the measure onto the ballot, called the bill's defeat a victory for reproductive rights.

"I think most importantly it sends a strong message to our Legislature," said Kate Looby, South Dakota state director of Planned Parenthood. "South Dakotans have had enough abortion legislation."

by cyncooper on Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 11:17:04 AM EST

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