Texas Republican Gets Anti-Choice Activists’ Backing After Funding Them for Years

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Analysis Politics

Texas Republican Gets Anti-Choice Activists’ Backing After Funding Them for Years

Ally Boguhn

Kathaleen Wall's campaign page highlights her anti-choice views, stating that she is devoted to “defending the right to life from conception to natural death.” That language parrots rhetoric from extreme “personhood” legislation.

Republican Kathaleen Wall has for years poured her time and money into anti-choice groups and abortion rights foes running for office across Texas and the United States. She’s now putting that effort into her own campaign in hopes of bringing her stringently conservative politics to the U.S. House of Representatives.

As one of nine candidates competing in the crowded Republican field to replace Rep. Ted Poe in representing his “solid Republican” seat in Congress, Wall has wielded her wealth in hopes of getting ahead in the race for Texas’ District 2. Wall has given her own campaign a staggering $5.9 million since she began her House bid, according to the Houston Chronicle. Wall has received almost nothing from individual donors.

Campaign finance records available from the National Institute on Money in State Politics show that Wall’s campaign contributions in 2018 also extended to anti-choice politicians in her home state of Texas. Texas Republicans this year have received more than $169,000 from Wall.

That includes two donations totaling $102,500 to incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott—who endorsed Wall in January. According to the Chronicle, Wall and her family have given the Texas governor more than $745,000 since 2010. Abbott has worked relentlessly to roll back access to reproductive health care in the state, including signing an appropriations bill in 2017 that allocated $38.3 million over two years to a program promoting fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers.

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Other recipients of funds from Wall this election cycle include two incumbent state senators who have been endorsed by Texas Right to Life: Republicans Bob Hall and Konni Burton.

So-called pro-life values have been a flashpoint in Hall’s competitive primary race, as Texas Right to Life has questioned whether his challenger, state Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Sunnyvale), was extreme enough in her opposition to abortion rights. It cited Burkett’s record of voting with the group “only” about 73 percent of the time in 2017. Both Hall and Texas Right to Life have recently faced questions about potentially inappropriate campaign contributions from the anti-choice group after a Texas Tribune report called attention to an advertisement starring Hall that seemed to be produced by the organization’s nonprofit arm instead of its political arm.

Hall has introduced a bevy of anti-choice legislation during his time in the state legislature, including a proposed constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to life of “unborn children” by banning abortion in Texas to the extent allowed under federal law.

Burton represents District 10, the same district once held by former Texas Democratic legislator Wendy Davis when she famously filibustered a sweeping anti-choice bill in the legislature. After taking office in 2015 decked out in anti-choice themed footwear, Burton cosponsored numerous measures to restrict access to abortion care.

In the 2016 election cycle, Wall and her husband donated more than $1 million to conservative politicians. Though much of that spending went to Texas Republicans, she also gave to presidential candidates, including President Trump, and members of the U.S. Congress such as Rep. Marsha Blackburn (TN), who led Republicans’ $1.59 million “witch hunt” into false allegations against Planned Parenthood based on an anti-choice front group’s propaganda campaign.

Politicians aren’t the only ones benefiting from the Wall family’s financial contributions. As Transparency Texas, a nonprofit focusing on campaign finances, explained in an April 2017 post, the Walls are one of several families of GOP donors who have helped fund the anti-choice group Texas Right to Life’s political PAC.

Kathaleen Wall has been a reliable donor to the anti-choice group’s political arm for years.

Wall’s campaign page highlights her anti-choice views as a key tenet of her platform, stating that she has long been devoted to “defending the right to life from conception to natural death.” That language parrots rhetoric from extreme “personhood” legislation, which could outlaw not only abortion but also in vitro fertilization and some forms of contraception.

Her claims of longterm advocacy on behalf of the anti-choice movement do not seem to be exaggerated. Wall has testified on behalf of the organization in front of the state legislature, helped vet its candidates, and worked with it to expand its presence on college campuses, according to a press release distributed by the Wall campaign announcing an endorsement from Texas Right to Life’s political arm. The group’s director, Elizabeth Graham, said in a statement that she met Wall ten years earlier and that the candidate “has been at our side ever since.”

“We know that in Congress, Kathaleen Wall will stand for life,” Graham said. “She is going to stand up for the unborn. She is going to innovate programs so that people across the country and in Congressional District 2 understand the civic process and she will never fail us on her commitment to protect innocent human life from fertilization until natural death.”

Melissa Conway, director of external relations at Texas Right to Life, reiterated Wall’s commitment to both Texas Right to Life and the anti-choice movement in an interview with Rewire. “Kathaleen Wall has been involved in the pro-life movement for well over a decade, and it started with her work within the Republican Party,” Conway said. “She was a very vocal activist within the precincts and within the party committees in which she was involved in making sure that the pro-life plank was toward the front of the line with regard to the Republican Party and how they analyze upcoming legislation.”

Conway said Wall had worked with her organization in a volunteer capacity and offered financial support to both anti-choice groups and candidates. “[Wall] has personally invested in organizations that make the pro-life movement more high profile,” Conway said. “She’s led out on rallies and events in helping to organize them, to get attendance up, to financially support the efforts of making sure that that event was capable and possible and that’s all the way from events to raising awareness to the pro-life cause, but also events that are in support of pro-life elected officials.”

Although a January post on Texas Right to Life PAC’s website said Wall was one of several women candidates “recruited” by the organization to run for officeConway told Rewire that the candidate was not recruited, suggesting Wall had chosen to run “based on the vacancy of the seat” after Poe decided to retire. Conway noted that Wall had “been a supporter of Ted Poe—financial and otherwise” and that the candidate had “felt very called to lead out and further [his] legacy.”

Poe has been a hardline abortion rights foe, signing onto legislation like the House GOP’s total abortion ban.

Conway verified to Rewire that she had worked on Wall’s bid for office on a “part-time basis outside of my Texas Right to Life work,” though she no longer works with the campaign. She said her work with the campaign “was not something that was deemed required or even suggested by Texas Right to Life.”

Conway is listed as the media contact for Wall’s campaign on the same press release that announced Texas Right to Life’s endorsement of the candidate.

Wall’s commitment to ending abortion access seems to be paying off outside of Texas as well. It was enough to earn Wall an endorsement from the Susan B. Anthony List, a national anti-choice organization with ties to the Trump administration, whose political arm works to elect candidates opposed to abortion rights.

Last week, Concerned Women for America PAC announced it too would back Wall. Penny Nance, president of the organization, said in a video announcing the endorsement that Wall is a “happy warrior for the cause of life and liberty” who has invested “her time, talent, and treasure” into conservative organizations.

Wall’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment by Rewire.