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Anti-abortion ‘abolitionists’ take slavery rhetoric to the next level

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lailluminator.com – Kelcie Moseley-Morris – 2023-09-02 10:00:28

Anti-abortion ‘abolitionists' take slavery rhetoric to the next level

by Kelcie Moseley-Morris, Louisiana Illuminator
September 2, 2023

The first time Tina Marshall heard anti-abortion protesters call themselves “abolitionists,'” she said she burst out laughing.

Marshall, a Black woman who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, was counter protesting at an abortion clinic when a mostly white group — save one Black woman — surrounded her and told her they were abolitionists.

“I rolled my eyes and said, ‘Can't you people ever think of anything original? Do you guys have to steal everything?'” Marshall said.

Anti-abortion demonstrators have told her she hates her own people. She's seen the mostly white men and women put their fists in the air and say, “Black Lives Matter.”

Marshall started volunteering as a clinic defender, as abortion rights groups call it, about two years ago, so she was unfamiliar with some of the rhetoric around abortion until recently. Much like the rest of America, in her view.

“They've been doing this for years, and nobody cared, and it's only because of Roe now that everybody's antennas are up,” she said of last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended the federal right to abortion. “Even before that, I've been out here over two years, and nobody cared about all the jeering and heckling of Black women.”

The co-opting of imagery from slavery, the Civil Rights Movement and other Black experiences to argue against abortion goes back more than a century, depending on who you ask, but the so-called “abolitionist” sect of anti-abortion groups has gained more momentum in political circles and state legislatures in recent years. With statistics showing higher rates of abortion by Black people in some states and the Black community's reverence to culture and religion, it's easy to see why such anti-abortion groups are focusing on African Americans.

William Hart, a professor of religious studies at Macalester University in Minnesota, told States Newsroom in an email that from his research, most Black Christians and non-Christians tend toward cultural conservatism, but they don't typically have strong feelings against abortion. Those who do think abortion should be illegal are often viewing it from the historical belief that family planning and abortion were forms of Black genocide, Hart said.

“The anti-abortion religious right is appealing to Blacks on religious grounds because they understand that Blacks are susceptible to the argument even if their reasons diverge,” he said.

Activists have also argued over how civil rights icon the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would feel about abortion if he was alive today. King's niece, Alveda, has said she thinks he would be anti-abortion. Others point to his quotes about the importance of family planning to say he was an advocate of reproductive rights.

The slavery comparison has historically been used by both sides of the abortion debate, according to research published in 1994 by Professor Debora Threedy, who is now retired. While anti-abortion groups use the comparison as a civil rights argument, harkening back to the days when slaves were widely viewed as less valuable human lives, abortion rights activists point to the implied slavery of not having a choice whether or not to give birth to a child, sometimes referring to it today as “involuntary servitude” and invoking “Black Lives Matter” to argue for bodily autonomy.

Threedy said the comparison to slavery in particular allows people to argue from the side of moral certainty, because nearly everyone today would agree that slavery was wrong then and wrong now.

“From where we stand now, on the slavery debate, we're all on the side of the angels,” Threedy said. “By co-opting that rhetoric, what you're saying is, ‘I'm on the side of the angels. They're not on the right side of history, they're not occupying the moral high ground — I am.'”

While the terminology is invoked on both sides of abortion politics, the anti-abortion activists who call themselves abolitionists have adopted it more as an identity over the past decade, and it has caused rifts among groups with similar goals.

Abortion abolitionists draw comparisons to history

At a recent conference hosted by Operation Save America, an extreme anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ organization with a history of physically blockading abortion clinics around the country, those rifts were openly discussed. The group's director, Jason Storms, opened the conference on July 17 at Pray's Mill Baptist Church in Douglasville, Georgia, by stating his organization would no longer associate with T. Russell Hunter, the leader of Abolish Human Abortion.

Hunter has frequently taken to Facebook, YouTube and other platforms to imply or directly state that groups like Operation Save America, Students for Life of America, Live Action and others don't always advocate from an exclusively “abolitionist” standpoint and are not as committed to ending abortion as he is.

Those who call themselves abortion abolitionists, such as Hunter, see that as an example of the difference between their views and that of the “pro-life” groups, which generally oppose criminal penalties for the pregnant person.

On a recent episode of a called The Serrated Edge, Hunter said he researched abolition in the context of slavery when he was in graduate school, and he saw parallels between the immediate abolitionists and those who opposed slavery but were in favor of more gradual, incremental approaches to ending it. To him, the abolitionists took a more biblical stance by calling the practice a sin and calling on the nation to repent.

“I thought, these (abolitionists) are amazing, what they're doing,” Hunter said. “They could've been anything, and instead, they saw the plight of their neighbors on these transatlantic vessels … and they decided to give themselves to that because they saw those men as their neighbors.”

The two sides of the anti-abortion movement have clashed more in recent years over legislation that would eliminate abortion entirely without any exceptions, including to save the life of the pregnant person, and would attach criminal penalties for the person who sought the abortion, which in some states would include the death penalty.

An “abolish abortion” bill introduced in the Louisiana legislature crafted in partnership with the Foundation to Abolish Abortion in 2022 did not advance after opposition from abortion rights groups as well as anti-abortion organizations, including the Louisiana Family Forum and Louisiana Right to Life. In Idaho, Rep. Heather Scott has introduced a similar bill for three years in a row, but it has not advanced to the House State Affairs Committee. Rep. Brent Crane, who is chairman of the committee, said in 2022 that he would not give a hearing to an “extreme” bill that would put a pregnant person on trial for murder.

During a panel discussion at Operation Save America's conference in July, Storms was joined by six other men to talk about abolition versus incrementalism in approaches to ending abortion, and said his group staunchly believes in criminal penalties for those who seek out the procedure but shied away from labeling the group as abolitionist or “pro-life.”

Zach Conover, communications director of the national organization End Abortion Now, was also a panelist, and he described the failure of a similar bill his group sponsored in 2019 in Arizona as a result of the National Right to Life group's opposition to it in a letter signed by more than 70 of its chapter members. He also referenced the Louisiana bill.

“What happened in Louisiana should've been national news,” Conover said to the panelists. “It was really the first time that the pro-life establishment had shown their cards to that extent.”

Gabriel Rench, a member of the extremist Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, also compared abortion to slavery, saying if churches in America had taken a stand against slavery, the Civil War would never have happened.

“We ended slavery through the blood of people instead of through the blood of Christ. When you have a massive cultural sin like slavery in America, you end it through the gospel, you don't end it through a war,” Rench said during the discussion. “We need to end abortion, which is awful — way worse than slavery, by the way. The slave trade had four, five million slaves max in America? And 600,000 people died. How much has abortion killed?”

According to historians, at least 12.5 million men, women and children were captured and enslaved from Europe and Africa between 1526 and 1857, and 10.7 million were taken to North and South America. That doesn't include the unknown numbers of people who did not survive the journey on tightly packed ships across the ocean.

Historians say a little more than 300,000 slaves were brought to the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported about 1.3 million abortions per year between 1980 and 1997, after which the numbers dropped to less than 650,000 per year since 2013.

‘They're trying to hitch them together'

Amanda Roberti, an assistant professor of political science at San Francisco State University, has researched the rhetoric of abortion politics for more than a decade. She said the civil rights language is often invoked as one of many strategies to capture more audiences, as any cultural advocacy movement would do. But it doesn't mean every group will take the same approach at the local, state and national levels.

“There is a widespread and widely cast approach going on here, but that is something that social movements can do, especially when they're multi-faceted like the anti-abortion movement is,” Roberti said. “They have an overarching goal of the end of abortion, but I think there are other groups that have slightly different tactics and what they want to pursue.”

Anti-abortion groups have also used the names of feminist leaders from history along with the names of Black activists. In 2011, U.S. Congressional representatives considered a bill titled the “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act,” to impose criminal penalties for abortions that were performed based on the sex or race of the child. It's unclear to historians whether Anthony, an early feminist leader, or Douglass, a slavery abolitionist, were against abortion.

“There's a whole psychology behind it, because they're trying to usurp a tragic historical fact and rise abortion to that level, they're trying to hitch them together,” Roberti said.

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‘Black women are the most marginalized'

Mandisa Thomas, a Black woman who lives in Atlanta and volunteers with an organization called We Engage, went to counterprotest at a local abortion clinic when Operation Save America held its conference in July. Abortion is banned after six weeks of pregnancy in Georgia, but members of the anti-abortion group gathered outside A Preferred Women's Health Center just outside Atlanta during the morning hours that week and attempted to stop individuals from going into the clinic, using microphones with amplified speakers to shout religious messages encouraging the patients not to go through with their appointments. Many of the patients who came to the clinic one morning were Black women.

Thomas said she has often heard the abolitionist language from anti-abortion protesters, and she finds it insulting.

“The fact that they think they are being abolitionists is offensive, because they're not being liberating at all,” Thomas said. “It really undermines the movements of people who did sacrifice their lives to make sure that all of us do have the freedom of choice, especially when it comes to reproductive choice and reproductive health.”

Marshall, who founded the Black Abortion Defense League in North Carolina, was also at the Atlanta clinic in July. Marshall said she started her organization because she didn't see many Black people on the abortion rights side.

“I just thought, being a Black woman who had an abortion so many years ago, there's a common language that we can speak, Black person to Black person,” Marshall said. “Black women are the most marginalized if you ask me. Nobody loves Black women except for other Black women, and sometimes we hate each other too. We're an easy target because nobody wants to jump up to really save us.”

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2020, 39% of abortions in the United States were among non-Hispanic Black people, while 33% were among non-Hispanic whites, and 21% were Hispanic. In states across the South, such as Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, more than twice as many abortions occurred among Black people in 2020 than among white people. In all three states, the poverty rate among Black people is also two to three times higher than among whites, and maternal mortality rates among Black women are higher than anywhere else in the country. Anti-abortion groups often target clinics in communities where a majority of the population is Black, typically in the South, for protests.

The disproportionate rates of abortion by race in some states are often cited on websites and in the literature of anti-abortion groups as a crisis to be addressed. Right to Life of Michigan has an entire page on its website titled “Black Abortions By the Numbers.” Focus on the Family cites the rate of abortions among Black women on its website as well.

But a 2022 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 59% of white respondents and 68% of Black respondents supported abortion to be legal in most or all cases.

That disparity in support could be one reason for trying to persuade communities of color to turn against abortion rights, said Grace Howard, an assistant professor of political science at San Jose State University. But on the other hand, Howard said tactics like the billboard could also be directed at white people like herself, to motivate her to action.

Some groups have paid for billboard advertisements that make race-based arguments around abortion, such as one in New York City in 2011 with a picture of a young Black girl that said, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”

The billboard was paid for by an anti-abortion group in Texas called Life Always and approved by the group's founding board member Stephen Broden, a Black pastor in Dallas. Broden said at the time in a statement that, “Our future is in jeopardy as a genocidal plot is carried out through abortion.”

The billboard was placed in a largely white community to garner the most attention, Broden said.

For some, reproductive justice is the answer

Roberti said the history of violence against Black women should also be considered when people use language related to slavery and civil rights. Research shows women who were enslaved were often raped and forced to bear children that could then be sold to other slaveowners. They were also subject to forced sterilization and other reproductive control measures.

“Black women have been subject to a lot of reproductive violence, so in a way they're (anti-abortion activists) tapping into an argument that is real, but then applying it to a policy output that's not going to provide any kind of justice,” Roberti said.

Howard is also a scholar of the reproductive justice movement, a social justice concept formed by a group of Black women in 1994 that looks beyond the statistics and demographics of abortion and works to strengthen the infrastructure of social supports around marginalized communities. That includes increasing access to contraception, adequate health care during and after pregnancy, reducing poverty rates and other measures that would increase quality of life and provide real choice, according to Sister Song. Howard said it's a solution that could lower the number of abortions obtained in the U.S. each year, including among communities of color.

“For some people, they are having abortions because they know they won't be able to raise this child the way they want to,” Howard said. “If you want fewer abortions, then a social safety net might change things, if someone knows they might be able to care for their child with dignity.”

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Louisiana Illuminator

Biden touts gun safety record to advocates, as son found guilty on felony charges • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Ariana Figueroa – 2024-06-12 05:00:32

by Ariana Figueroa, Louisiana Illuminator
June 12, 2024

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday touted his administration's efforts to reduce gun violence as the second anniversary of bipartisan gun safety legislation he signed into law approaches.

“Never give up on hope,” Biden said during an annual conference hosted by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

The speech came hours after the president's son Hunter Biden was found guilty in a federal court in Delaware of lying on paperwork related to purchasing a gun and unlawfully possessing that gun, according to media reports.

The federal jury found Hunter Biden, who has struggled with drug addiction, guilty on three related felony charges: lying to a licensed gun dealer, falsely stating on an application for a gun that he was not using drugs and for unlawfully having the gun for 11 days.

He could face up to 25 years in prison, though as a first-time offender his sentence is expected to be much less severe.

The president has avoided publicly commenting on his son's case and he did not mention the verdict in his speech.

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Gaza protest

Shortly after Biden began his speech, he was interrupted by a protester who accused the president of being “complicit” in the high death toll of the Israel-Hamas war. The conflict has killed 35,000 Palestinians since Oct. 7, according to the Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip run by the Hamas-controlled government. An agreement over a U.S. backed cease-fire deal remains elusive.

The crowd immediately drowned out the protester. A group of protesters was removed, according to a White House pool report.

Biden tried to calm the crowd.

“That's alright,” he said. “Folks, it's OK, look they care, innocent children have been lost, they make a point.”

Law nears second anniversary

Biden went back to his speech, and thanked the gun safety advocates and survivors “who have turned their pain” into advocacy.

“You've helped power a movement,” Biden said.

The gun safety law Biden signed in 2022 was the most comprehensive federal gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years. It stemmed from two deadly mass shootings less than two weeks apart in 2022.

One was at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were murdered, making it the second-deadliest mass shooting since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012.

The other was in Buffalo, New York, where a white supremacist targeted a Black neighborhood and killed 10 Black people in a grocery store.

Worries about guns in school mount as permitless concealed carry law looms

The 2022 law provided $750 million for states to enact “red flag laws,” which allow the courts to temporarily remove a firearm from an individual who is a threat to themselves or others as well as $11 billion in mental health services for schools and families. The law cracked down on straw purchases, illegal transactions in which a buyer acquires a gun for someone else.

The bill also requires those who are under 21 and want to purchase a firearm to undergo a background check that takes into account a review of juvenile and mental health records. It also led to the creation of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

The Justice Department also announced Tuesday it has charged more than 500 people under provisions of the gun safety law to “target the unlawful trafficking and straw-purchasing of firearms.”

The statutes “directly prohibit straw purchasing and firearms trafficking and significantly enhance the penalties for those crimes, providing for up to 15 years in prison,” according to the Justice Department.

“Criminals rely on illegal gun traffickers and straw purchasers to obtain the weapons they use to harm our communities,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

More work to do

Biden acknowledged that more needs to be done on gun safety legislation and he called on Congress to ban assault weapons and require universal background checks and safe storage of firearms. In a divided Congress, any gun-related legislation is unlikely to pass.

The last time Congress passed major gun legislation was 1994, when then-President Bill Clinton signed a ban on assault weapons that spanned 10 years. When it expired, Congress did not renew the ban.

Biden also took a jab at his rival, former President Donald J. Trump, and said that he won't tell people to “get over” a mass shooting.

After a school shooting in Perry, Iowa, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee said during a campaign speech in Sioux City, Iowa, that while the school shooting that left two dead – an 11-year-old student and the principal – was a “terrible thing that happened,” his advice was to “get over it. We have to move forward.”

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Pair of U.S. House Dems add to chorus calling for Alito, Thomas recusals • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Ariana Figueroa – 2024-06-12 05:00:51

Pair of U.S. House Dems add to chorus calling for Alito, Thomas recusals

by Ariana Figueroa, Louisiana Illuminator
June 12, 2024

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats echoed Senate colleagues Tuesday in calling for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito to recuse themselves from Jan. 6 cases, and for congressional Republicans to support passing an enforceable ethics code for the entire bench.

Reps. Jamie Raskin, ranking member of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, and vice ranking member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brought together fellow progressive Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse with experts and advocates for a roundtable discussion on the “ethics crisis” facing the nation's highest court.

Recent revelations of flags sympathetic to the “Stop the Steal” movement flown outside Alito's home have reignited simmering concerns over justices' conflicts of interest as they decide politically divisive issues. This year, justices are set to rule on access to the abortion pill and whether former President Donald Trump enjoys immunity from criminal charges alleging 2020 election interference, among other cases.

Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez delivered searing remarks, admonishing decades of court actions beginning with the 5-4 decision in 2000's Bush v. Gore that ultimately decided the presidential victory for George W. Bush. The lawmakers continued on to recent events that Ocasio-Cortez characterized as “corruption that is almost comical.”

“The Supreme Court as it stands today is delegitimizing itself through his conduct,” the New York Democrat continued in her opening statement. “Americans are losing fundamental rights in the process — reproductive health care, civil liberties, voting rights, the right to organize clean air and water because the court has been captured and corrupted by money and extremism.”

Raskin, of Maryland, said the “highest court in the land today has the lowest ethical standards.”

In his opening statement, Raskin characterized the court as “the judicial arm of the Republican Party,” drawing a throughline from Bush's appointments to the bench of Chief Justice John Roberts and Alito to Trump's appointments of conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

“Now this right-wing corporate court, carefully designed to destroy Roe v. Wade and marry right-wing religion to untrammeled corporate power, has been demolishing women's abortion rights and contraceptive rights, civil rights law, voting rights law, civil liberties, environmental law, workers' rights and consumer rights, enshrining government power over people and corporate power over government,” Raskin said.

Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez's roundtable came less than a week after progressive House Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Hank Johnson of Georgia rallied with activists outside the Supreme Court urging an ethics overhaul.

That same day, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky posted to X: “As the Supreme Court term ends, the Left is once again bullying Justices who refuse to take orders from liberal Senators. The Court should take any action it deems appropriate to reprimand unethical conduct by members of its Bar. And Justices should continue to pay this harassment no mind.”

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‘Keep the pressure on'

Whitehouse told Democratic members of the Oversight and Accountability Committee that Senate Democrats are shining a “heavy spotlight on the mischief.”

The Rhode Island Democrat has championed an ethics bill titled the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act, which advanced out of committee along party lines in July 2023 but has not received a floor vote.

“We need to keep the pressure on until they join the rest of the government in having a real ethics code with real fact finding and some prospects for comparing the facts that are found to the rules,” Whitehouse said.

The bill was introduced during the fallout from a 2023 ProPublica investigation revealing that Justice Clarence Thomas received gifts from and traveled with a major Republican donor.

A recent analysis by watchdog group Fix The Court illustrated that over the past 20 years the value of gifts received and likely received by Thomas dwarfs that of his colleagues.

Supreme Court orders Louisiana to use congressional map with two majority-Black districts 

Whitehouse again pressed the court in May after the New York Times published that an upside-down U.S. flag hung outside Alito's Alexandria, Virginia, home just days after former Trump's supporters breached the Capitol. The Times later revealed another flag carried by Jan. 6 insurrectionists flew outside the justice's New Jersey beach house.

Along with Sen. Dick Durbin, who chairs the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Whitehouse requested a meeting with Roberts to urge Alito to recuse himself from cases related to the Jan. 6 attack. Roberts declined, and Alito responded to the senators, declaring he would not recuse himself.

“Thank you Sen. Whitehouse for always flying the flag right side up,” Raskin said.

The court ‘will decide all of this for all of us'

Kate Shaw, University of Pennsylvania law professor, told the lawmakers that the court is “conducting itself in ways that are fundamentally inconsistent with basic separation-of-powers principles that are a core feature of our democracy.”

“This is crystal clear right now, as it is every June, as the country waits with bated breath to learn whether and how the court will upend huge swaths of American law,” she continued.

“This year questions include whether and how the court could further erode the capacity of agencies to regulate in ways that protect our health and safety and well being,” and major firearms decisions, Shaw said.

The court will also decide whether laws on the books will “be used to hold accountable individuals charged with the attack on the Capitol, including the former president,” Shaw said. “And the court is asserting that it and essentially it alone will decide all of this for all of us.”

Over two dozen opinions are expected from the Supreme Court by the end of June.

Two decisions related to two Jan. 6 cases remain pending — one involving a former police officer who breached the Capitol and is seeking to have an obstruction charge dropped. The decision could affect hundreds of Jan. 6 defendant cases, and the 2020 election interference case against Trump, who faces the same obstruction charge.

The court is also set to decide whether Trump is immune from four federal criminal counts alleging he schemed to overturn the 2020 presidential election results and knowingly spread false information that whipped his supporters into rioting on Jan. 6.

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Campaign cash for child care? Louisiana lawmakers decline to endorse it. • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Julie O'Donoghue – 2024-06-12 05:00:35

by Julie O'Donoghue, Louisiana Illuminator
June 12, 2024

Five years ago, the Louisiana Board of Ethics told a political candidate she could use her campaign money to cover child care costs as long as the expense was related to her efforts to get elected. But state legislators declined to insert that policy into law this year.

They scuttled Senate Bill 153 to ensure candidates could use campaign dollars for election-related child care. 

The proposal passed the Louisiana Senate 31-3 but died in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. Committee members said too many questions about the bill remained. 

The legislation's failure doesn't necessarily mean candidates can't use money raised for their campaigns to pay child care expenses. It just means the issue will be left up to the ethics board, which could reverse its 2018 decision at any time. 

“In some cases, it's better to have these individual decisions made, as they are, through [the ethics board],” House Republican Caucus Chairman Mark Wright of Covington said.

Former Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, wishes the Louisiana Legislature had made a definitive statement on the issue. As a candidate for Baton Rouge mayor and single father, James has sometimes wished he had child care for his 6 year-old daughter while campaigning. He has not used any election money for child care yet, but juggling his daughter during nighttime and weekend events can be difficult, he said.

“I think that the Legislature could have and should have put some clarity to it,” James said. 

What's a legitimate campaign expense in Louisiana has been interpreted liberally over the years. Candidates are allowed to use their funds for Mardi Gras parades, restaurant dining, flowers for constituents, charity golf tournaments, fuel and vehicle maintenance.

Several elected officials buy Saints and LSU football tickets with campaign money every year. They also collectively spent over half a million dollars in campaign funds to attend D.C. Mardi Gras, a four-day event that includes dozens of parties, in 2022. 

“If folks can use campaign money to buy Saints, Southern and LSU tickets, I certainly think [child care] should be permissible,” James said.

In the past, the ethics board has also waffled over whether campaign money can be used to cover child care costs.

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The board issued two opinions to male candidates in 2000 indicating they could use campaign funds to cover child care to attend fundraisers. Based on that decision, a group of men who ran for office, including U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, tapped their campaign accounts to cover child care for years. 

Then, in 2018, the board, with a different lineup of members, told legislative candidate Morgan Lamandre she could not use campaign money for child care. One member, former House Rep. Charles Emile “Peppi” Bruneau, told Lamandre her primary responsibility was to provide for her children, not to be a political candidate. 

After widespread criticism of the decision and Bruneau's remarks, the board backtracked a few months later in 2019 and voted 6-4 to allow Lamandre the child care expense. 

Senate President Pro Tempore Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, sponsored the Senate bill this year to clear up any confusion that might remain. She said 31 other states already have a law on the books that allows campaign cash to be used for child care.

“I'm trying to codify what the [ethics board] ruling says,” Barrow said.

During debate on the bill, a handful of legislators implied child care should not be an allowable campaign fund use. 

“Are you aware we have a general prohibition against using campaign funds for personal expenses?” Sen. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, asked Barrow during debate on the Senate floor.

“Yes,” Barrow said. 

“So why are you bringing the bill?” Miguez replied. 

Miguez, who voted against Barrow's legislation, said allowing campaign funds to be used for child care would open “Pandora's box.” During the Senate debate, he listed utility bills, lawn care, car leases and “car notes” as costs that candidates might try to cover with campaign funds if child care became an allowable expense.

Legislators already use campaign money to cover car leases. Gov. Jeff Landry also put his campaign money toward paying “a portion of a note on a motor vehicle” for years until the ethics board told him to stop in 2022. 

“Don't you think that's very important to have [a candidate's] animal taken care of while they're out there campaigning?” Miguez asked Barrow during debate on her child care bill. 

“I know that you're not equating pet animals to children,” Barrow replied. 

“I'm not. I'm just giving you some specific examples of where this could go,” Miguez said.

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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