Planned Parenthood Sought Soros Cash to Protect Federal Subsidies

Documents detail $1.5 million grant and Soros network’s rapid response lobbying strategy

George Soros / AP

George Soros’ dark money group planned a seven-figure cash infusion for a Planned Parenthood fund that spent millions lobbying to preserve its taxpayer subsidies after videos showed the abortion provider negotiating the sale of fetal body parts, internal documents reveal.

Soros’ Open Society Policy Center, his vast political network’s 501(c)(4) "social welfare" arm, sought a $1.5 million boost for a Planned Parenthood legal, lobbying, and rapid response operation it called the Fight Back Campaign.

The money would enable the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the group’s lobbying arm, "to mobilize grassroots and grasstops supporters and lobby Congress to counter attempts to defund Planned Parenthood at the federal and state levels," an internal OSPC document said in language designed to brief its board on the grant.

It is not clear whether the funds were ever actually disbursed. OSPC is required to report its grants annually, but its most recent filing with the Internal Revenue Service cover grants only through 2014.

Planned Parenthood and the OSPC did not respond to questions about the Fight Back Campaign grant proposal.

The document outlining it was one of thousands of hacked files from Soros’ political and policy network released on the website DC Leaks. Metadata indicates it was written by Victoria Choong, an Open Society budget analyst until 2015.

The grant summary and other documents released by the hackers reveal the extent not only of Soros’ work to preserve subsidies for Planned Parenthood, but also how the Hungarian-born billionaire’s network of advocacy groups has honed its ability to address unforeseen and time-sensitive policy fights with sudden infusions of cash designed to sway specific policy decisions.

According to OSPC’s summary of its Planned Parenthood grant, the Fight Back Campaign’s budget was projected to reach as much as $8 million. "Countering this offensive requires an enormous amount of resources and staff time, which is the intent of the opposition," OPSC wrote.

The campaign was a response to undercover videos filmed by the Center for Medical Progress, a pro-life group that exposed Planned Parenthood’s sale of fetal organs and tissue for medical research. The Center for Medical Progress says it amounts to a significant revenue stream for the organization. Planned Parenthood denies that it makes any money from the sales.

The videos led to congressional votes to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which receives more than $500 million from taxpayers each year.

Efforts to keep that money flowing put an immense strain on Planned Parenthood’s lobbying and advocacy budget, the OSPC document reveals.

"In the several weeks since the attack began, leading up to the Senate vote [to defund the group in December 2015], Planned Parenthood used up nearly all of its lobbying resources, so its greatest need for the campaign outlined above is an immediate infusion of c4 funding," OSPC wrote.

Planned Parenthood had no trouble securing funding for its 501(c)(3) educational arm, but that nonprofit designation precludes it from doing the legislative lobbying and issue advocacy it needed to ensure a continued stream of federal funding.

"Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, has recently secured a commitment for $2 million in c3 funds, with strong prospects for more on the c3 side. Funding for lobbying activities, however, is much harder to come by," Soros’ group noted.

The Soros network has worked in the last few years to cultivate a funding arm that can provide sudden cash infusions to address unforeseen challenges and policy opportunities, and do so with specific policy goals in mind.

Open Society’s Opportunities Fund functions as a rapid response funding mechanism for groups in its giving portfolio, such as Planned Parenthood, that are faced with sudden funding shortfalls or specific needs due to developing policy opportunities.

"These funds emerged from one aspect of George Soros’ view about how OSF should run and what makes us distinct as a philanthropy," an internal document explained.

"Rather than be exclusively wedded to the advancement of pre-conceived and long-term strategies, we should have the capacity to respond to unexpected events as they unfold, including using OSF funds to leverage other dollars."

The Opportunities Fund’s budget has grown from $6.25 million in 2013—when it was known as the Reserve Fund—to $20 million this year, according to documents handed out at Open Society’s board meeting in May.

"We are aware that many issues will arise that we cannot anticipate but where an immediate infusion of funds can significantly advance our goals," Open Society said in a 2014 strategy memo. "We will continue to devote 20-25% of our [U.S. Programs] budget to this opportunistic capacity."

Soros’ son Jonathan, a top Open Society executive and OSPC board member, must sign off on all C4 grants from the Opportunities Fund, according to internal documents. That role dovetails with Open Society’s push to address a lack of C4 grantmaking capacity among left-wing foundations.

"OSPC’s capacity to make c4 grants will be of even greater significance given the wind-down of Atlantic Philanthropies, the only other major philanthropic entity with significant c4 capacity," the 2014 strategy memo noted.

Its unique role as a lobbying grantmaker made support for Planned Parenthood of particular importance. "OSPC is uniquely situated to provide a critical resources PP will have a hard time finding anywhere else," the group wrote.

In seeking to beef up funding for Planned Parenthood’s Fight Back Campaign, OSPC teamed up with the Democracy Alliance, a powerful network of Democratic donors whose president, Gara LaMarche, also sits on OSPC’s board.

Both houses of Congress ended up passing legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, but President Obama vetoed the measure. Despite defunding measures at the state level, OSPC described its efforts as a success.

"This emergency funding enabled PPAF to implement its multipronged Fight Back Campaign to mobilize grassroots and grasstops supporters and lobby Congress to counter attempts to defund Planned Parenthood at the federal and state levels, and to continue providing critical reproductive health care services across the country," OSPC wrote.

Update 12:46 p.m.: A previous version of this story identified the group that released the videos as Operation Rescue.