Texas’ largest anti-abortion group has spent millions on a public information campaign, lobbying over the past decade • OpenSecrets

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In the 10 years leading up to the enactment of Texas’ highly restrictive abortion law, a “black money” organization called the Texas Right to Life Committee and its network of political and educational organizations spent millions on finance the state movement against abortion.

Texas Right to Life, which presents itself as the the biggest anti-abortion group in the state and called the new law “historic victory, recently made headlines after created a website to accept anonymous advice about people who perform or assist with abortions after the six-week deadline set by law. The site was spammed by online abortion rights activists before website hosting provider GoDaddy took the site offline. The site briefly found a new home with service provider Epik, which is known to host controversial sites like Gab, Parler, and 8chan. However, the site was later started for violating the service provider’s terms of service.

While Texas Right to Life has been put in the national spotlight by Texas’ new abortion law, the group has a long history of anti-abortion efforts. Tax returns show Texas Right to Life spent $ 8 million on public information campaigns and lobbying efforts for anti-abortion legislation in Texas from 2009 to 2019.

Texas campaign finance records show the organization spent[%7B1%7Cgro=is-t-eid”>$4.3 million in independent expenditures supporting and opposing state level candidates since 2005. The largest expenditures came in 2018, when the group spent $2.1 million, and in 2016, when the group spent $1.4 million. 

The new Texas law restricts abortions performed after a fetal heart beat can be detected, usually six weeks into a pregnancy, by allowing individuals to bring a civil suit against anyone who provides or aids an abortion after that cutoff period. 

On Sept. 1, the Supreme Court chose not to block the law, citing “complex and novel” procedural questions arising from the fact that private citizens are tasked with enforcement. 

“We want to pass legislation to show the Supreme Court that they need to tear down and rebuild the legal foundation they have relied upon when it comes to abortion legislation,” John Seago, Texas Right to Life’s legislative director told the Atlantic after the Court’s ruling. “We’re invested in that, but that’s really a different project than the heartbeat act.”

Since 2005, Texas state lawmakers introduced a range of restrictions on people seeking abortions such as requiring a sonogram 24 hours before the procedure and prohibiting insurance coverage for abortions. The number of abortion clinics in the state dropped from over 40 in 2013 to about 24 today. As of 2017, 96% of Texas counties had no abortion providers.

As a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization, Texas Right to Life can provide vague explanations of its expenditures to the Internal Revenue Service, making it difficult to quantify the full extent of its anti-abortion advocacy. The organization also does not need to disclose the identity of its donors. 

Tax filings, which are publicly available through the end of 2019, show the organization reported spending $751,043 in direct political activities since 2009. 

But many 501(c)(4) organizations can exploit blurry lines between “political” and “educational” spending, meaning the actual amount that Texas Right to Life spent boosting anti-abortion efforts may be even greater. 

One of the group’s recent Facebook ads mentions President Joe Biden’s opposition to the new abortion law, but does not argue for or against Biden. Texas Right to Life and its PAC spent more than $ 97,000 combined on Facebook ads since 2018, based on online ads data.

Although the Texas Right to Life must also report political expenses to the Federal Election Commission, it is sufficient to report advertising expenses mentioning a federal candidate that are made 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election.

FEC records show the organization’s expenses $ 195 in the 2020 elections, $ 133,984 in the 2018 elections and $ 15,450 in the 2016 election. In 2018, over $ 40,000 went to support Bunni Pounds, a Republican running for Texas’ 5th Congressional District, and over $ 37,000 went to oppose Rep. Lance Gooden (R- Texas), who beat Pounds in the primary.

Texas Right to Life’s activities also included “lobbying to change laws concerning abortion and euthanasia ”and another concerns inform the public via letters, phone calls and meetings on “ongoing legislative issues affecting the right to life movement”.

Between 2012 and 2019, the group spent $ 547,433 on “state legislation,” according to its tax returns.

The organization registered six state lobbyists with the Texas Ethics Commission this year. Three lobbyists were paid between approximately $ 18,000 and $ 46,000 and three between $ 46,000 and $ 93,000.

Texas Right to Life’s state PAC contributed[%7B1%7Cgro=c-t-id”>$1.8 million to state candidates in the last 19 years. The PAC gave $12,000 between the 2012 and 2016 elections to state Sen. Bryan Hughes, the author of the restrictive abortion bill. 

The top three recipients of the PAC, who all received over $130,000 in contributions, were state House candidates who lost their 2018 Republican primaries. Emily Kebodeaux Cook received the most from the PAC at $149,793 and now serves as Texas Right to Life’s general counsel. 

Top donors to the PAC include Farris and Daniel Wilks, billionaire brothers who made their money from an oil company. They contributed a combined $1.5 million to the PAC. 

The group’s federal PAC, which was converted to a super PAC in 2020, has spent inconsistently over time. The PAC spent over $60,000 in the 2020 election but only $1,344 in the 2018 election and nothing in the 2016 election. 

In the 2020 cycle, over $51,000 worth of independent expenditures went to oppose Wendy Davis, a Democrat who lost her bid for Texas’s Republican-held 21st Congressional District. That year the PAC also received a $35,000 donation from Timothy Dunn, a major Republican donor in the state. 

Texas Right to Life also operates a separate “educational fund” that has similarly spent millions of dollars over the past decade. The fund is classified as a 501(c)(3) organization, meaning that it cannot spend directly on political campaign activities. 

The education fund has spent large sums cultivating anti-abortion campus activists. Tax filings show that in 2008, the education fund created a scholarship for undergraduate students who devote 50 hours “each semester to organizing pro-life projects and events on their campuses.” 

Three years later, the group created a graduate student scholarship for those enrolled in health professional schools or law schools and in 2019, the fund created scholarships for high-school students, filings show. In 2019, the educational fund reported giving out 254 scholarships, costing $305,166.

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