Will Planned Parenthood’s Millions Tip the 2020 Election?
The abortion giant has sunk unprecedented amounts of money to capture both the Democratic Party and the 2020 election, giving pro-life organizations’ ground game its strongest test yet.
WASHINGTON — The 2020 election cycle is witnessing an unprecedented amount of money spent over abortion politics, with Planned Parenthood seeking to tip the balance with tens of millions of dollars and an army of grassroots activists.
Planned Parenthood’s political operations have invested heavily in Democratic candidates, campaigns and organizations in order to protect hundreds of millions of dollars of annual revenue coming into the abortion giant.
At the outset of the 2020 election cycle, Planned Parenthood pledged to raise $45 million — more than triple what it raised in 2016 — and deploy its activists to push pro-abortion Democratic candidates it supports to victory. One of their early victories in the election was the primary defeat of longtime pro-life Democrat U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill.
“It’s a combination of the money, but they also have a lot of vocal supporters who are willing to shout outside people’s offices,” Kristen Day, president of Democrats for Life, told the Register. Day said Planned Parenthood’s political influence on the Democratic Party (and refusal to brook any dissent from their abortion orthodoxy) is so powerful, it has cost Democrats competitive races that pro-life Democrats could have won against Republicans.
“They put their issue before party,” Day said. “They’re a corporation the Democratic Party is beholden to. They say they don’t want to be beholden to corporate interests, yet they are: the abortion lobby.”
Planned Parenthood Federation of America is a registered nonprofit, and as such, it cannot directly intervene in elections. But the organization powerfully intervenes in the election in different ways through its political action committee (PAC), Planned Parenthood Action, and its Super PAC, Planned Parenthood Votes.
As a PAC, Planned Parenthood Action can contribute directly to political campaigns up to $5,000 per candidate, while individuals associated with the PAC can make their own contributions, as well. The PAC can also engage Planned Parenthood’s supporters and invite them to mobilize politically.
The PAC has donated to 94 Democratic House candidates, with an average contribution of $3,527, and 25 Democratic senators, at $4,507, according to Federal Election Commission filings examined by OpenSecrets.org, a site run by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Some of the top Democratic recipients in 2020 (both from the organization and individuals associated with Planned Parenthood’s PAC) are Joe Biden ($24,281), Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Texas ($18,984) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi ($16,543). Approximately 50 candidates, such as Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., a Catholic who said he’s personally opposed to abortion but supports its legality, received the full $5,000 amount from the organization.
Filings from the Federal Election Commission illustrate how Planned Parenthood Action heavily invests in Democratic organizations.
During the 2019-2020 period, PPA donated $10,000 each to The Young Democrats of America PAC and the National Democratic Training Committee PAC and an additional $25,000 to the DLGA PAC, the Democratic Lieutenant Governor’s Association PAC.
Open Secrets reported Planned Parenthood in 2020 donated $30,000 each to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as well as $15,000 to the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Day pointed out that pro-life Democrats are excluded from many Democratic fundraising operations, which are needed to help raise the money to win elections, because they apply “a litmus test against pro-life Democrats.”
Planned Parenthood Votes, Planned Parenthood’s Super PAC, can raise unlimited amounts of money for its own electioneering efforts, for or against candidates, but federal rules on Super PACs prohibit them from coordinating with candidates’ election campaigns or donating directly to a candidate’s war chest.
Information on PAC and Super PAC spending posted on OpenSecrets.org shows Planned Parenthood Votes has raised $13.3 million this election cycle.
The sum nearly matches the $14.5 million so far raised by the pro-abortion EMILY’S List Super PAC Women Vote!, which in the past election cycle had been the strongest pro-abortion Super PAC, raising $40 million in 2018.
Open Secrets shows that pro-life PACS spent nearly $600,000 on 2020 candidates for Congress, while pro-abortion PACs spent nearly six times more — $3.1 million. Planned Parenthood accounted for $2.4 million of that sum, with $1.1 million spent directly on candidates and $1.3 million sent to outside spending groups.
Michael New, a visiting assisting professor in social research at The Catholic University of America and a contributor to the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, told the Register that Planned Parenthood has become much more aggressive politically than ever, investing more money into the election cycle and purging their own leadership.
New pointed to Planned Parenthood’s board ousting Dr. Leana Wen, who wanted to make Planned Parenthood explicitly a medical organization, in favor of Alexis McGill Johnson as president and CEO, whose background is political activism.
“[Wen] was not a good mission fit,” New said. And he noted that Planned Parenthood has a stronger hold over Democratic political leaders than do other left-of-center constituencies, such as gun control or environmental activism.
“They’re very willing to compromise on guns or the environment, but very rarely ever willing to compromise on abortion,” he said.
Hundreds of Millions at Stake
But the heavy investment Planned Parenthood makes in Democratic politics is minimal compared to the potentially hundreds of millions of dollars it stands to forfeit if it loses the 2020 election and government funding for its business becomes more restricted.
As the Register already reported, Planned Parenthood’s loss in the Title X fight raised the specter that its Medicaid funds — a third of its revenue, according to Planned Parenthood’s financials — could be next, should the Republican Party win control of both houses of Congress and the White House in this election cycle.
The organization’s total revenue was recorded at $1.64 billion in 2019.
But a victory for Planned Parenthood’s Democratic Party political allies in 2020 would mean an opportunity to expand its share of the abortion industry and maximize its potential income generation, even as the industry overall declines.
“Fewer physicians want to do abortions, we see abortion facilities closing, and we see the abortion rate falling,” New said. “So politically and non-politically, they see a lot of trends going against them. And so they’re doubling down in terms of their political involvement.”
Democrats for Life’s Day said Planned Parenthood’s rationale is no different from a corporation that’s willing to spend money on elections “to increase their bottom line.”
“The abortion lobby wants to get rid of all regulations — just like a business — so they can keep the [abortion] demand up,” she said.
Another potential political impact of the upcoming presidential election relates to pro-life legislative strategies that aim to chip away at Roe v. Wade. President Donald Trump is expected to reshape 40% of the federal judiciary and possibly another Supreme Court justice by 2024, increasing the possibility of successful challenges to Roe v. Wade and a tougher future for the abortion industry.
Further, a major political defeat for Planned Parenthood would damage its stature as the premier advocate for abortion. Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliates raised $630.8 million in 2018 and $591.3 million in 2019 from private contributions, primarily by calling on people to support them as the champion of abortion in the United States.
Battle of the Grassroots
Despite the financial disparities in favor of the abortion lobby, New said the pro-life movement has had a good ground game.
Mallory Quigley, vice president for communications at the Susan B. Anthony List, told the Register their pro-life political organization has a plan to reach 4.6 million voters in battleground states and has confidence that pro-life voters will turn out in greater force than pro-abortion voters. Quigley believes reelecting President Donald Trump on the basis of his administration’s pro-life accomplishments would be a motivating factor.
“In 2016, we had a list of promises,” she said. “Now, we have a record, and it’s an impressive record.”
Quigley said SBA List expected a vigorous fight from Planned Parenthood because “they’re petrified about what else [Trump] would accomplish in the next four years.”
The Trump campaign listed on Aug. 23 its core priorities for a second term agenda, but did not initially list pro-life issues among them. However, the issue of abortion was heavily featured during the Republican National Convention itself, and the list of core priorities was subsequently amended to include a pledge to “protect unborn life through every means available.”
According to Open Secrets, SBA List has so far raised $832,000 in the 2020 cycle, and its Super PAC, “Women Speak Out,” raised $6.2 million in 2020.
So far, Planned Parenthood Votes has outraised Women Speak Out by a 2-1 margin.
Quigley said money is “just one aspect of this fight.”
“We’re winning on the messaging and public opinion,” she said.
“The pro-life movement has to continue very strongly to expose the contrast between the two sides on this issue,” she said.
And they expect to canvass in battleground states — Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin — so long as it is “safe and permitted,” according to government restrictions related to coronavirus concerns at the state and local level.
Noah Weinrich, press secretary for Heritage Action for America, told the Register that COVID-19 has changed how campaigns are operating, and political watchers are going to find out in 2020 how much traditional canvassing still matters in an age of social media.
Planned Parenthood’s Strategy
Weinrich said Planned Parenthood’s campaign spending aims to flip the Senate to Democratic control by intervening in key races as well as secure a pro-abortion presidency.
Planned Parenthood Votes has committed $303,056 to elect Democrat Mark Kelly and $275,354 against Republican Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona. In Maine, the Super PAC has spent $289,543 to take down Sen. Susan Collins — a pro-choice Republican who nonetheless has become a particular target of the abortion lobby because of the key vote she cast in 2018 to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court — and invested $99,679 in Democratic challenger Sara Gideon.
In North Carolina, Planned Parenthood Votes has sunk $129,863 into taking down Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, who has been a strong supporter of pro-life legislation, and spent $114,427 to bolster challenger Democrat Cal Cunningham.
“The Senate is very much in play and hinges on a few races,” Weinrich said.
Planned Parenthood has also formally endorsed the Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and Biden reciprocated by appearing in a Planned Parenthood ad in which he promised to promote abortion domestically and internationally and declared, “I am proud to join you in this fight.”
Weinrich said Republicans have an edge in the traditional campaigning of knocking on doors and asking people for their support at the polls during the pandemic. Democrats are seeing a “a lot less canvassing” in part, he said, because Democratic core voters tend to live in urban environments where COVID is a greater concern, whereas Republican core voters live in more rural and spread-out suburbs where it’s less of a concern.
“We’re going to see if you can win an election with just social media right now, or if you can win it with old-school door-to-door efforts,” he said.
The ground game, especially on social media, is an area where Planned Parenthood has been working steadily to neutralize the pro-life advantage ever since the organization was politically bloodied in 2015 by a series of undercover videos exposing its sales of body parts harvested from aborted babies.
Planned Parenthood’s most recent annual report heavily emphasized Planned Parenthood Action’s recruitment of 140,000 “Defenders” activists it could reach by text, 392 Action Councils (local teams of activists), and 81 new Planned Parenthood Generation Action campus chapters.
Democrats for Life’s Kristen Day said freeing the Democratic Party from Planned Parenthood money is going to depend on the Democratic pro-life grassroots mobilizing, running for office and challenging the party establishment that’s in the pocket of Planned Parenthood.
And key to that pushback will be raising the money to offset Planned Parenthood’s war chest.
“Their ability to raise [those funds] is phenomenal,” Day said, “and we need to match that.”
Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.