The Dark Money Behind Kansas’ Misleading Anti-Abortion Campaign - The Lever

The dark money network led by conservative Supreme Court architect Leonard Leo financed the nonprofit that bankrolled a misleading text message campaign pretending a Kansas ballot measure would “give women a choice,” when it actually would have eliminated state abortion protections.

New tax documents hint at how Leo’s network has been quietly working to influence abortion policy in the states utilizing his historic $1.6 billion dark money fund, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision last year overturning Roe v. Wade and ending federal protections for abortion rights. As President Donald Trump’s judicial adviser, Leo helped select three of the six justices making up the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority.

Leo’s network donated $1.7 million to CatholicVote Civic Action, a conservative Catholic advocacy group, between July 2021 and June 2022, according to a new tax return obtained by The Lever.

The contribution was made around the time that CatholicVote Civic Action was funding a campaign supporting a Kansas ballot measure designed to eliminate protections for abortion rights in the state constitution. The ballot measure would have affirmed “there is no Kansas constitutional right to abortion” and given state lawmakers “the right to pass laws to regulate abortion.”

Do Right PAC, a political action committee funded by CatholicVote Civic Action, sent text messages to Kansas voters a day before the election last summer giving the false impression that a “yes” vote on the ballot measure would “give women a choice” and “protect women’s health,” when its passage would have ended state protections for abortion rights.

The PAC also paid for TV ads featuring Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker, in which he claimed that the amendment would “let Kansas decide what we do on abortion, not judges and not D.C. politicians.”

A spokesperson for Leo did not respond to questions from The Lever.

Former Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), a senior political advisor to CatholicVote Civic Action, led Do Right PAC. CatholicVote Civic Action donated $500,000 of the $556,000 raised by the PAC last year.

Huelskamp did not respond to a request for comment.

Despite these efforts, the Kansas initiative failed decisively, 41 to 59 percent — offering an early preview of how anti-abortion efforts would flounder in the 2022 state elections. While Kansas Republicans recently overrode Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s vetoes of some anti-abortion measures, abortion remains legal in the state up to 22 weeks.

The Leo network’s donation to CatholicVote Civic Action came via the Concord Fund, the conservative advocacy group that spent tens of millions to confirm the three Supreme Court nominees whom Leo helped select as former Trump’s judicial adviser.

Tax records show the Concord Fund raised $29 million between July 2021 and June 2022. All of that money appears to have come from Leo’s Marble Freedom Trust. As The Lever and ProPublica reported last year, this trust was the recipient of an unprecedented $1.6 billion cash infusion courtesy of Chicago surge protector magnate Barre Seid.

Records show the Concord Fund also donated $500,000 to Advancing American Freedom, a dark money group chaired by former Vice President Mike Pence that is serving as his “campaign-in-waiting” in advance of a potential 2024 presidential bid, according to Politico.

The Concord Fund additionally reported donating $750,000 to the lobbying arm of the Foundation for Government Accountability, which has led the fight to institute new and expanded work requirements for a range of social safety net programs.

President Joe Biden’s recent debt ceiling deal with House Republicans includes some of those expanded work requirements, at the urging of Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

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The Lever

Locations: Kansas 

Organizations: Supreme Court CatholicVote Civic Action Do Right PAC Concord Fund Marble Freedom Trust Advancing American Freedom Foundation for Government Accountability Republican Party (GOP) 

People: Leonard Leo Donald Trump Harrison Butker Tim Huelskamp Laura Kelly Barre Seid Mike Pence Kevin McCarthy 

Tags: Abortion Corruption Democracy 

Type: Headlines