Obama admin ‘stonewalling’ freedom of information request on Planned Parenthood funding
MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE, February 22, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Obama administration is “stonewalling” on a Freedom of Information Act request about why it chose to fund the local affiliate of Planned Parenthood after New Hampshire’s state government cut off state funds, according to a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund.
The New Hampshire Executive Council – a part of the state government’s executive branch – denied Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE) a $1.8 million grant last June, while approving family planning contracts with nine institutions that do not provide abortions. Its members suggested the state “should find health centers who would be able to utilize these monies more effectively than Planned Parenthood, which was unwilling to give the Executive Council the proper assurances and documentation of how this money was going to be spent,” ADF-affiliated attorney Michael Tierney told LifeSiteNews.com.
Then, in August, the HHS informed state officials that it would open the Title X grant in 2012 to a competitive bid. However, a local clinic in Manchester says it never received a response about how to apply. Instead, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, announced she had written a letter urging Kathleen Sebelius to make a “direct grant” to Planned Parenthood. (ADF’s legal complaint records that Shaheen received $390,000 in political donations from Planned Parenthood, EMILY’s List, and NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2008.)
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The Obama administration subsequently made a direct $1 million grant to PPNNE. Councilor David Wheeler said the action smacked of “arrogance,” saying, “Even though the state of New Hampshire turned down Planned Parenthood as a contractor, the Obama administration says you’re going to take it anyway, whether you like it or not.” Three councilors filed a formal complaint.
New Hampshire Right to Life filed an FOIA request to determine if HHS ever actually made the grant competitive, or received assurances PPNNE would not divert tax dollars to promoting abortion. It has yet to receive two-thirds of the documents it has requested.
According to the HHS website, “Under the FOIA program, agencies initially have 20 working days and may take an additional ten (10) working days to respond to the request.” Tierney said the process has taken 130 days, and the government has yet to give a deadline for compliance.
Federal officials repeatedly told the pro-life organization it had to change its wording or petition another agency of government before HHS could provide the documents, as required by law.
“I think it was a run-around,” Tierney told LifeSiteNews, adding that some of their explanations bordered on the “comical.”
New Hampshire RTL has received 465 of 1,225 requested pages – including many duplicates of the same document. “For example, the Susan B. Anthony List issued a press release on these Planned Parenthood grants. I think I’ve received that 30 times already,” Tierney told LifeSiteNews.com. Tierney added HHS officials sent him copies of e-mails he had sent them. “But Planned Parenthood’s grant application? I haven’t received even one copy of that.”
The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted last month to divest Planned Parenthood of state tax funds by a wide margin. That bill is now before the state senate, and Tierney thinks senators deserve information related to the grant process before casting a vote – particularly information relating to the Executive Council’s suspicions that PPNNE would not be able to assure Title X money would not be illegally used for abortion.
Such fears are not without basis. A compilation of state audits and whistleblower lawsuits assembled by the ADF uncovered an alleged $99 million in waste, abuse, and potential fraud by at least 20 percent of all national Planned Parenthood affiliates.
Slow compliance from Washington is nothing new, Tom Fitton, president of the legal watchdog group Judicial Watch, told LifeSiteNews.com.
New Hampshire Right to Life’s treatment adds corroboration to claims that the Obama administration has politicized the FOIA process to deny information to its perceived enemies, he said. FOIA requests filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, and National Public Radio were answered in less than the 20 working days – sometimes the same day – while requests filed by conservative institutions such as the Washington Times, Human Events, and the English First Foundation dragged on for months or were never answered.
“You can’t treat people unequally based on where you think they’re coming from in terms of philosophy,” Fitton said. “This is what the administration seems to be doing.”
Fitton said the problem of federal evasion “goes way back” – and things are only getting worse. “Comparing [the Obama administration] to the Bush administration, which was supposedly the pinnacle of secrecy, it’s a lot worse,” Fitton told LifeSiteNews.com. “Administratively, they play more games, and in court they’re as hardcore.”
“You have an administration that is more secretive than the Bush administration,” he said.
Fitton said Judicial Watch has sued the government at least 60 times to receive documents it has requested under the FOIA law.
“There’s a real problem with lawlessness in Washington,” Fitton said. “It’s about time we see this administration follow the law.”