March 1, 2018 Press Releases

Watchdog Files Suit Against PA Gov’t for Records Related to Anti-Abortion Contractor

PRESS RELEASE
March 1, 2018
molly@equityfwd.org
(612) 387-8083

Watchdog Files Suit Against PA Gov’t for Records Related to Anti-Abortion Contractor

Contractor Has Record of Misusing Public Funds, Failure to Disclose Public Records

Equity Forward, a nonpartisan watchdog, today announced a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) for records related to the Commonwealth’s contracts with Real Alternatives (RA). Real Alternatives is a Pennsylvania-based organization that manages millions in Commonwealth funds to support anti-abortion counseling centers.

“Pennsylvania taxpayers deserve to know how their tax dollars are spent,” said Equity Forward executive director Mary Alice Carter. “Equity Forward is taking action to access Real Alternatives’ records as this anti-abortion organization continues to stonewall all efforts to shed light on their taxpayer-funded operations.”

Equity Forward’s action in Pennsylvania is the first step in bringing transparency and accountability to a taxpayer-funded anti-abortion group that has thus far escaped complete oversight. For more than six months, DHS and RA have refused to turn over documents that are well within the scope of Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law, as the organization is 99.9% funded by taxpayer dollars.

Amid a Commonwealth budget crisis, RA was the sole beneficiary of a $32.5 million, five-year grant to administer Pennsylvania’s “Alternatives to Abortion” program, which funds anti-abortion centers that exist primarily to convince women not to undergo an abortion. RA has been responsible for this large sum throughout serious controversy over its management of monies and improper use of PA taxpayer funds. They have received $83 million since 2003.

“Pennsylvania taxpayers have the right to review publicly funded operational records of Real Alternatives and its service providers in order to provide transparency for taxpayers,” said Equity Forward’s transparency counsel, Terry Mutchler. “In this case, these financial records are a basic public record that may shed light on Real Alternatives’ decades-long practice of hiding their use of public funds, which could top millions of dollars.”

Mutchler is a leading expert in transparency law and was appointed by former Governor Ed Rendell to create Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records and enforce the Commonwealth’s Right to Know Law. Equity Forward is working with Mutchler to appeal a denied public records request in Commonwealth Court.

Equity Forward has been working with the Commonwealth since September 2017 to obtain these records, but both DHS and RA have refused to make public documents available. The records in question deal with RA’s practice of recouping 3% of funds from local service providers that bill back for providing anti-abortion counseling services. In September, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale suggested this practice amounts to “siphoning funds” intended to benefit Pennsylvania women in need and called it an “egregious violation” of the multimillion dollar grant.

Based on publicly available information, Equity Forward estimates that RA has taken $3.19 million of Commonwealth monies through its Program Development & Advancement agreements since July 1997.

“Our legal action is an important part of Equity Forward’s work to take aim at organizations and individuals working to limit access to reproductive health care,” Carter continued. “Our mission is rooted in the simple principle that all people – including all Pennsylvanians – should have equitable access to quality health care. Where ever transparency and accountability is lacking in the reproductive health community, we are stepping in to advance the debate and bring the truth to light.”

[Learn more about Real Alternatives HERE.]