Under the Influence: Money and Power in Politics

Will Revolving Door Staffers Impact Planned Parenthood Funding?

(Ennuipoet/Flickr)With its federal funding already threatened and congressional budget negotiations still under way, Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides health care and abortions at reduced prices, faces an uncertain future.

The organization came under fire last month with a House budget proposal that would have withdrawn its federal funding. Although the Senate defeated the resolution on March 9, Congress may press forward with the issue in the next version of the budget.

"We've gained a lot of momentum. We expect that in whatever budget measure comes up next, defunding Planned Parenthood will be in it," said Wendy Wright, CEO of Concerned Women for America, a socially conservative organization that has been lobbying for federal defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Wright has at least one reason to be optimistic. Michael Schwartz, the former head of government relations at Concerned Women now serves as the chief of staff to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Although he hasn't yet taken sides in the current budget battle, Coburn is a staunch conservative who serves as one of the "Gang of Six," a group of Democratic and Republican senators who are involved in long-term budget negotiations. Coburn is also an influential Republican and member of the Senate Finance Committee who many Washington observers say has significant sway within his party leadership.

All this comes at a time when reproductive rights are being restricted in many states around the country. Since January, more than 800 reproductive health bills have been introduced in various state legislatures, according to findings by Regional News Network, and more than half of them aim to limit access to abortion. In Congress, both the pro- and anti-choice sides now count among their staffs former lobbyists who once fought fiercely on one side or another.

Schwartz, for instance, had an illustrious lobbying career before his job as a Congressional aide. Now, he and his boss, Coburn, seem made for each other.

Both men have a history of taking social conservatism to the extreme. Coburn once said he supports the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions, and Schwartz has said that pornography leads to homosexuality.

"Homosexuality is inflicted on people," Schwartz said at a 2009 panel discussion for the Family Research Council. "All pornography is homosexual pornography because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards."

Throughout his career, Schwartz has bounced between conservative pro-life organizations and stints on the Hill. He was already a pro-life advocate when he joined Coburn's House staff in the late 90s. He went back to work as head of government relations at Concerned Women for America from 2000 to 2004. After that, Schwartz returned to work with Coburn as administrative director in his Senate office.

Planned Parenthood also has a former lobbyist serving on the Hill. Laurie Rubiner, who was Planned Parenthood's vice president of policy and advocacy, in 2010 became chief of staff for Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who has long been an advocate of abortion rights and was endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice America's PAC.

Rubiner may be better known to some as legislative director for Sen. Hillary Clinton, a position in which she helped develop the New York senator's health care reform proposal for a 2008 presidential campaign. Before that, Rubiner held policy positions at the National Partnership for Women and Families and the New America Foundation.

"Sen. Clinton is 150 percent committed to universal health care coverage, and so am I," Rubiner said in a 2007 profile in The New York Times.

House Resolution 1, the budget provision that would have defunded Planned Parenthood, was introduced by Congressman Mike Pence, R-Ind., who is chairman of the House Republican Caucus and has a staunch pro-life record.

Both Pence and Coburn received campaign contributions from the Club for Growth, a conservative PAC primarily focused on fiscal issues that has recently joined the struggle against federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

If conservatives are successful in defunding Planned Parenthood, the organization's representatives say its ability to provide health services will suffer.

Approximately one-third of Planned Parenthood's $1 billion budget comes from the federal government. By law, federal money cannot be used for abortions, but the organization does use taxpayer money to provide cancer screenings and contraceptives to women without health insurance.

"We estimate that nearly 2 million patients participate in the federally funded program," said Tait Sye, a Planned Parenthood spokesman. "If we are defunded, America's emergency rooms will be overrun."

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