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Business leaders donate to anti-abortion groups

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Demonstrators hold signs during a protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court, after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for a majority of the court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision later this yr, in Washington, May 3, 2022.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

Donald Trump’s judicial advisor Leonard Leo stood in front of a gaggle of over a dozen Republican and libertarian-leaning donors in July 2018 on the Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs. Billionaire Charles Koch’s allies had gathered there to debate, amongst other things, then-President Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, including the newly chosen Brett Kavanagh.

The meeting that summer on the Koch-backed retreat shows how people in Trump’s orbit kept the wealthiest business leaders within the country up thus far as he selected three conservative high court justices — Neil Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and later Amy Coney Barrett — who would help to choose the fate of the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision. Financiers who contributed at the very least $100,000 to the political organization were previously invited to attend Koch’s biannual meeting of their top donors. A spokesman for the Koch network told CNBC their organization doesn’t work on the difficulty of abortion.

“Courage is admittedly necessary to this president, greater than every other president I’ve ever handled on these issues,” Leo told donors on the time in describing an attribute Trump looks for in his judges, in keeping with notes taken by an attendee who wished to stay anonymous to be able to share private information. “He understands that whoever gets picked has to have been through some crucible, some trial by fire of their life. In order that he knows that they’re going to be absolutely solid.”

The leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion showed the 6-3 conservative court majority cemented during Trump’s White House term could soon overturn the constitutionally protected right to an abortion. If issued this summer, such a ruling would also mark a triumph for anti-abortion groups who for years have wanted the court to overturn Roe. Those organizations have received a giant financial boost from a handful of rich and influential business leaders.

The draft decision that may upend nearly 50 years of precedent has sparked uproar amongst abortion rights supporters and a fundraising boom for Democrats. On the opposite side of the controversy, Michael Warsaw, the CEO of Catholic broadcaster Everlasting Word Television Network, told CNBC in an announcement that the leaked draft was “encouraging” but that “it will be premature to state that it’s a victory” before the court issues a final opinion.

The network, which opposes abortion, has ties to the business community. At its launch within the Nineteen Eighties, the network was funded by people including the late Harry G. John, an heir the Miller Brewing fortune, and Recent Orleans real estate developer Joseph Canizaro. In 2019, the TV network contributed $10,000 to Susan B. Anthony List, a gaggle that lobbies and publicly opposes abortion, in keeping with the corporate’s 990 filing from that yr.

Canizaro didn’t return calls and emails searching for comment. Warsaw said the donation supported an annual event held by Susan B. Anthony List. Michelle Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Catholic network, later added the donation backed the group’s annual dinner in Washington, D.C., that yr. A spokeswoman for Susan B. Anthony List didn’t return a request for comment.

Since Trump became president, a small group of executives, their nonprofit organizations and affiliated outside groups, have formed a little-known multimillion-dollar fundraising operation to back groups who’ve lobbied and campaigned against abortion rights, in keeping with over 30 Federal Election Commission filings and nonprofit tax filings. The net of business leaders and their affiliated organizations have raised over $40 million, with big money going to groups equivalent to Susan B. Anthony List and its affiliated organizations.

Corporate America has stayed mostly silent on the court’s draft decision because it was published. Even so, some business leaders have boosted the anti-abortion movement in recent times.

Records show that donors to anti-abortion groups include nonprofits run by oil and gas executive George Strake Jr., the conservative Mercer family and a donation through the Shell company foundation run by the leaders of the oil and gas giant.

Individual donors have given big money to groups that oppose abortion rights because the 2020 election cycle, FEC filings show. A lot of those organizations opposed President Joe Biden in that election and may very well be energetic this yr within the midterms, as Democrats attempt to hold their narrow majorities in Congress.

Women Speak Out PAC is a brilliant PAC that claims it’s “amplifying the voices of girls against abortion extremists in Congress.” The Susan B. Anthony List website lists the PAC, together with the separate Susan B. Anthony Candidate Fund, under their “SBA List Family.” Super PACs can spend and lift a vast amount of cash for his or her desired candidates.

Republican megadonor Richard Uihlein, who founded shipping company Uline Inc., gave $4 million to the group throughout the 2020 election cycle. A separate PAC, titled Restoration PAC, which has also received thousands and thousands from Uihlein over the 2020 and 2022 election cycles, donated over $400,000 to Women Speak Out PAC late last yr. Ellen Barrosse, former CEO of health-care technical writing service Synchrogenix, which is now owned by pharmaceutical company Certara, gave $1 million to the PAC in January.

John Buser, an executive from investment firm Neuberger Berman, donated $25,000 to the organization that very same month.

Throughout this week, Neuberger Berman’s website listed Buser as a managing director and an executive vice chairman of its investment advisory arm NB Alternatives. By Friday, after CNBC contacted the firm about Buser’s donation, his bio page was inactive.

Neuberger Berman spokesman Alexander Samuelson told CNBC that Buser retired last yr. “Neuberger Berman is a nonpartisan global firm. The firm doesn’t contribute to any political campaign,” Samuelson said in an email.

Questions emailed to Berman through the firm’s spokesman weren’t answered. Representatives for Uihlein and Certara didn’t return a request for comment. Restoration PAC and Barrosse didn’t return requests for comment.

Susan B. Anthony List sees funding boost

Probably the most distinguished anti-abortion groups is Susan B. Anthony List, which was created within the Nineties after the formation of Emily’s List, a political motion committee that supports candidates who advocate for abortion rights.

Susan B. Anthony List’s nonprofit groups, which don’t publicly disclose their donors, and their affiliated political motion committees, raised over $40 million during Trump’s 4 years in office as they pushed back against abortion, records show. The group’s 501(c)(4)’s most up-to-date public 990 disclosure is from 2019 and says: “SBA List’s top legislative priorities include passing pain-capable laws that prohibit abortions after five months of pregnancy based on the unborn child’s ability to feel pain; passing laws that prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion, especially through Obamacare.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group’s president, met with Trump while he was within the White House, including in 2019 “to debate abortion as a difficulty within the 2020 presidential election,” in keeping with a press release describing the meeting. She tweeted in response to the Supreme Court leak that “if the draft opinion holds, the result might be that we the people get to choose the difficulty of abortion through our elected officials in states & Congress.”

Its 501(c)(4), which is allowed by law to interact in some lobbying and political activity, showed the group’s best fundraising years in a decade in 2018 and 2019, raising over $20 million over that period, records show.

The group spent $290,000 on lobbying Congress in the primary quarter of this yr, essentially the most it has ever invested in 1 / 4 into engaging with congressional lawmakers, records show. The group lobbied on issues including the confirmation of Biden’s Supreme Court pick, soon-to-be Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, disclosures show. The organization opposed her nomination.

The group also has a 501(c)(3) organization called the Susan B. Anthony Education Fund. It cannot lobby but can share the group’s messaging on abortion. It has raised over $6 million since 2018.

Other nonprofit disclosure forms show that Susan B. Anthony List and Education Fund donors since 2016 include the Leo-allied Judicial Crisis Network, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, which is funded by Charles Koch and his allies, the Mercer Family Foundation, run and financed by longtime megadonors Robert and Rebekah Mercer, the Strake Foundation, a nonprofit led by Texas businessman and philanthropist George Strake Jr., and a donation through the Shell Oil Company Foundation, which is headed by the leaders of the large oil company.

Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell, told CNBC that the over $2,000 the corporate foundation gave to the Susan B. Anthony Education Fund got here from one in all its employees.

“The Shell Foundation forwards worker payroll deductions and match requests to 501c organizations in good standing with IRS,” Smith said in an email. “The Shell Foundation encourages worker giving and doesn’t endorse any organizations.  Giving is a private decision not directed by the corporate. On this instance, the worker didn’t request a match.”

A spokesman for the Koch network told CNBC that the $500,000 donation to Susan B. Anthony List was tied to a previous commitment made by Freedom Partners.

“We don’t and have never worked on the difficulty of abortion,” the Koch network spokesman said. “The grant in 2017 was the last payment on a previous commitment by Freedom Partners, which was intended to support SBA’s grassroots efforts to get-out-the-vote amongst those concerned about government spending — not issue advocacy.”

Spokespeople for the Mercers and Judicial Crisis Network didn’t return requests for comment. Strake Jr. couldn’t be reached for comment.

Carrie Severino, a longtime ally of Leo’s and leader of the Judicial Crisis Network, tweeted in support of the draft decision.

“The reported draft opinion is thoughtful, scholarly, and thorough. It does the work that almost all in Roe and Casey refused to do, seeking to the Structure itself to find out whether it features a right to an abortion,” Severino said.

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