(WOMENSENEWS)--A one-man South Dakota corporation created less than two months ago by a Republican South Dakota legislator who wrote the state's controversial law banning most abortions donated $750,000 to finance a campaign to influence state voters to uphold it on Election Day.
The ban, signed by the governor in March, is the most restrictive anti-abortion law passed in any state for three decades. The corporation, formed by state Representative Roger W. Hunt, failed to file a report indicating the source of its income, a requirement under the law and a potential criminal law violation, said South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson, a Republican, in an interview with Women's eNews.
"The reporting requirements are to provide the public information regarding where money is collected and how it is spent," said Secretary of State Nelson. "A corporation would be required to file a campaign report if giving money for a ballot measure." Failure to report can be a crime, he said. Criminal investigations are referred to the state attorney general, said Nelson. However, it is unclear whether Hunt's failure to make public the source of his corporation's funds will result in any sanctions.
South Dakota voters will consider the abortion ban in a ballot measure on Nov. 7. The ban, introduced by Hunt, prohibits abortions in the state at all stages and in all circumstances, except if the pregnant woman's death is imminent. The law does not include an exception for rape victims or to protect the health of the woman.
In a telephone interview on Thursday, Hunt confirmed the donations from the corporation to Yes for Life, the political campaign working to uphold the abortion law, but would not say the source of the donations or how much of the funds were from out-of-state sources. He said that he could not answer questions because of an attorney-client relationship.
"I have clients who want to maintain their confidentiality. I am not at liberty to discuss it. It's not something that they want known to the public," Hunt said.
Hunt also affirmed that the corporation is under his control. "I am the director. I am the officer. I am all of the officers. We have one-person corporations in South Dakota," he said. "This corporation won't have to file much of anything."
The South Dakota law presents a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1973 that said states cannot prohibit abortion in the early stages or at any time when a woman's health is endangered. After the law was passed, citizens collected 36,000 signatures to place the issue on the November ballot, where it is designated as Referred Law 6, and can be repealed by a simple majority vote.
In an Oct. 31 poll conducted for the Argus Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D., 52 percent of 800 likely voters said they would vote to repeal the initiative. An additional 42 percent of voters said they would vote to uphold it, and 6 percent were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of 3.5 percent.
Donor Corporation Housed in Lawmaker's Office
The corporation making $750,000 in donations to the campaign to defeat the initiative is called Promising Future Inc., and is located in Hunt's office in Brandon, S.D. Hunt said in an interview that he is the sole member of the board of directors of the corporation, which incorporated on Sept. 14, 2006.
The corporation has made three separate contributions of $250,000 to Vote Yes for Life, a Sioux Falls, S.D., ballot committee formed to campaign for the near-total abortion ban. Hunt, a private attorney, is also on the incorporating board of Vote Yes for Life, alternatively known as South Dakotans for 1215.
How much of the campaigns are funded by out-of-state money is a much-discussed issue in the state. A media release on Friday, Nov. 3, by the anti-ban South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families declared that Hunt broke the law by not disclosing donors and said: "Vote Yes should return illegal contributions."
The required campaign filing reports posted online on Nov. 1 and 2 by the South Dakota secretary of state indicate that Promising Future is by far the largest donor to either side of the intense battle, the Vote Yes for Life campaign for the abortion ban, or the pro-choice "vote no" campaign, South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, also based in Sioux Falls.
Promising Future contributed 28 percent of the $2.65 million campaign coffers of Vote Yes for Life, which has been running advertisements on television that have drawn formal complaints for deceptive content to television stations and the state attorney general by Jan Nicolay, co-chair of the Campaign for Healthy Families, Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women in New York, and others.
The South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families reported receipts of $2 million in campaign donations.
Modest campaign donations are more typical in South Dakota. Hunt's own campaign for the state Legislature ran on less than $5,000 both in this election and his first in 2004. The articles of incorporation for Promising Future state that it was incorporated to invest in real estate and commercial ventures, as well as "for education of the public concerning ballot issues; and to engage in . . . preserving traditional and family values."
Kate Looby, state director for the Planned Parenthood affiliate in South Dakota, said that the undisclosed Promising Future donations to the Yes for Life campaign compounds what she described as deliberately misleading campaign ads aired by the opposition.
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, America 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.
Pro-Choice Organizations Pitch In
The largest donor to the pro-choice South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families contributed half as much as Promising Future Inc. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Minnesota (which serves South Dakota) contributed $375,000 in two donations.
Other national pro-choice or progressive organizations also made contributions, including the New York-based American Civil Liberties Union at $100,000; NARAL Pro-Choice America in Washington, D.C., at $34,000 plus $2,813 of in-kind services; the national office of the Planned Parenthood Federation in New York at $27,500 plus $19,000 of in-kind services; Republican Majority for Choice in New York at $17,000; Feminist Majority in Virginia at $13,300; Physicians for Reproductive Choice in New York at $3,000; and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association in Washington, D.C., at $1,000. The Service Employees International Union in Washington, D.C. delivered $50,000.
The Working Assets Political Action Committee in San Francisco contributed $92,135 to the pro-choice coalition, and Working Assets company provided $24,217 of in-kind services. The only other out-of-state political action committee, the People for the American Way Voters Alliance in Washington, D.C., contributed $500. Two South Dakota political action committees contributed $1,800.
The remaining donors to the pro-choice "No on 6" group listed on 19 pages are individuals from across the country, including over 135 from South Dakota.
Cynthia L. Cooper is a journalist and lawyer who frequently reports on reproductive justice.
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For more information:
Women's eNews Spotlight on 2006 Midterm Election Races:
"Abortion Ban Draws S.D. Women Into Race":
"Pine Ridge Leader Faces Battle Over Abortion Ban":