The Money Changers
The TFN report devotes an entire section to "God's Sugar Daddy," Dr. James Leininger.
The San Antonio physician made a fortune selling specialty hospital beds. His business empire has included a variety of other companies, including Promised Land Dairy (which places a Bible verse on each milk container), the direct mail company Focus Direct and the political consulting firm of Winning Strategies. Yet among Dr. Leininger's most significant investments have been in the careers of politicians who back his public policy agenda, including tort reform, private school vouchers, pushing religious conservative principles in public schools, and opposition to abortion and gay rights.
Leininger holds a seat on the Board of Trustees of Patrick Henry College, where "[e]ach Trustee, officer, faculty member and student of the College, as well as such other employees and agents of the College as may be specified by resolution of the Board of Trustees, shall fully and enthusiastically subscribe to the following Statement of Faith."
A. There is one God, eternally existent in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When Leininger makes that statement of faith, he puts his money where his mouth is, even though he grew up in a church that warns its faithful: "We condemn those who ... aiming to govern the State by the Word of God, seek to turn the State into a Church." But maybe that's why he's not a Lutheran anymore.
Leininger is best known for financing efforts to defund public schools with private school vouchers and push through so-called "tort reform" measures to protect corporations such as his from legal damages, but as far back as 1999, Leininger already had written checks for $2.1 million to anti-choice, anti-gay rights and conservative "family values" non-profits and PACS such as the American Family Association, the Christian Pro-Life Foundation, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the Heidi Group, the Institute in Basic Life Principles, and the Republican National Coalition for Life PAC.
State Rep.Frank Corte, a perennial proponent of religious school vouchers and Leininger's longtime lap dog, also shares Leininger's overweening interest in controlling women's bodies. Corte was the author of Texas HB15, a draconian 2003 antiabortion law that has drastically decreased women's access to abortion care in Texas.
And why do even moderate Republicans vote "yes" on bills like these, creating a web of statutes by now so confused that a doctor in Texas can be subject to the death penalty for providing an abortion to a minor without written parental consent? Peggy Romberg of the Women's Health and Family Planning Association was present when many lawmakers walked out of the legislative chamber, refusing to vote on yet another anti-choice bill: "I even had Republicans say to me, `I'd love to walk this one, but they'd kill me,'" she said. "Everyone knows what this is really about. They're just afraid to say it publicly."
If you serve in an elected office in Texas, you don't want to get in Jim Leininger's way.
For the 1994 school board elections, at the behest of the state Republican Party, [Leininger's friend, Bob] Offutt went out to recruit fellow travelers. He found three. One was Donna Ballard, a Pentecostal minister's wife from the Houston suburbs. Through personal funds and PAC contributions ... Leininger donated some $45,000 -- an enormous amount of money as school board campaigns go -- to Ballard and the two other Christian-right candidates. And Focus Direct, a Leininger company in San Antonio that does slick, direct mail work for companies and politicians, produced and mass-mailed a leaflet featuring a photo of a black man and a white man kissing and accusing Ballard's opponent Mary Knott Perkins of wanting to teach Texas children about oral and anal sex. Perkins, a grandmother many times over who is by no means a political radical, lost the election to Ballard. The other two Christian conservatives also won. The victories gave the elected state school board its first-ever Republican majority.
If Leininger spends $45,000 on a school board election, how much will he spend to buy the results he wants in other races? Via the Texas Ethics Commission, the Texas Freedom Network report provides some sobering numbers.
From 1997 to March 2006, the Leiningers contributed or loaned nearly $10 million to candidates for state offices and to political action committees active at the state level. During the same period, the Leiningers contributed more than $1 million to campaigns and political committees at the federal level and in other states. Those vast sums of money went almost exclusively to Republicans and far-right political committees. Indeed, Dr. Leininger has been called the "sugar daddy of the religious right" in Texas, and the name clearly fits.
If Leininger is the religious right's sugar daddy, he has some help paying child support. Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim is best known as the founder of Pilgrim's Pride, and is recognized on sight by many Americans from his folksy appearances on billboards and television, dressed in a pilgrim's hat and often with a pet chicken under his arm. And that's one lucky chicken, because Pilgrim's Pride facilities in Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Puerto Rico and Mexico process about 30 million of her sisters every week, for a record $5.7 billion in net sales for fiscal year 2005.
Bo Pilgrim and his family members have bestowed tens of thousands in blessings upon hard right Republicans in every election cycle -- in addition to another $450,000 for the national Republican committee in 2002 alone -- and that ain't chickenfeed, either.
Aside from his long history as a polluter of the environment second to none - in 1995 Pilgrim's Pride paid $325,000 in fines for illegal wastewater discharges, and in 2002 caused a deadly listeria outbreak that killed eight people and led to the largest meat recall in American history -- Pilgrim immortalized himself in Texas political folklore for what I like to think of as the Great Chicken Feeding of 1989.
Raising chickens made Bo Pilgrim famous. Handing out $10,000 checks inside the Texas Capitol made him notorious. In 1989, during consideration of a bill to reform the state's workers compensation laws, Pilgrim walked onto the floor of the Senate, where a committee meeting was concluding, and handed out $10,000 checks to key legislators involved in the workers comp debate. Several legislators took the checks. When the story was reported in the news media, senators returned the checks to Pilgrim. (One senator didn't exactly return the check. He had already cashed it, so he had to write a new check to Pilgrim.)
In addition to furthering his vision of a "Christian" society, his continuing political largesse to those who have no trouble voting Bo Pilgrim's conscience instead of their own has enabled Pilgrim to continue his blatant defiance of federal law as a major employer of undocumented workers. From my vantage point inside a clinic that provides abortion care, I didn't need a watchdog site to inform me of Pilgrim's hiring practices, because his company employs undocumented Spanish-speaking women in such huge numbers that our clinic has seen many of them over the years, both from Dallas and from Pilgrim's Pride headquarters in Pittsburg, Texas. They receive low pay, of course, with no health insurance and little access to family planning services.
When women working in such conditions experience unplanned pregnancies, they often feel compelled to seek abortions as a matter of economic survival. Despite the fervid insistence by the religious right that the public accept the dubious concept of "Post-Abortion Syndrome" as an article of faith, the biggest worry on these women's minds is that our doctors advise them not to spend prolonged hours on their feet for the next several days. Even though we provide Pilgrim's employees with documentation of their qualification for temporary disability under the Family Medical Leave Act, they fear that they'll lose their jobs unless they return immediately to spending ten hours a day on the processing line, elbow deep in chicken innards.
But the millions pumped into Texas politics by Leininger and Pilgrim pale in comparison to the ungodly amounts of money proceeding from the seemingly bottomless pockets of homebuilder Bob Perry, whose political activities at the national level were revealed in 2004 by his financing of the shady Swift Boat Veterans for Truth assault on John Kerry.
In the past four years, Perry has made a total of $5.2 million in contributions to various Texan Republican efforts. ... That includes contributions to everything from Bush's runs for president to Rick Perry's campaign for governor to the Tom DeLay-inspired Texans for a Republican Majority PAC that's now the focus of a Travis County grand jury investigation into campaign finance violations. ... Perry wrote checks to state Republican campaigns totaling an astounding $4 million in 2002 alone.
And what kind of "Christian" government are these seemingly endless millions buying in Texas?
From Sen. Bob Deuell - a physician who coasted into office on $250,000 of Bob Perry's money, and was instrumental in stripping thousands of low-income women of access to family planning and basic health services this year - his opinion on allowing rape survivors an exemption from the more rigid strictures of our state's antiabortion law.
"There are many hundreds, if not thousands of women who have been raped and carried that pregnancy, and had the baby and have been very happy that they've done that," he said. ". . . I still feel very strongly that even as tragic as some of those circumstances are, they have been a blessing to many, many people."
Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose have observed that "These disciplined political Christian soldiers have spent the last ten years taking over the the machinery of the Republican Party, precinct, county, and state. Now they want a ring, not just a promise."
How about a button instead?
Predictably enough, sightings of this badge of honor in the State Capitol are as rare as snow cones in hell.
[Title Image: Rembrandt's Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple from the Art Renewal Center]
The Money Changers | 5 comments (5 topical, 0 hidden)
The Money Changers | 5 comments (5 topical, 0 hidden)