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POLITICS-US: Right-Wing Magnate Takes Up Anti-Abortion Banner

Bill Berkowitz*

OAKLAND, California, Oct 8 2008 (IPS) - As the U.S. presidential race winds down and attack ads against Sen. Barack Obama intensify, Raymond Ruddy, a multi-millionaire conservative Catholic who over the years has been more comfortable operating in the backrooms of conservative philanthropy, appears to be coming out of the closet.

Despite being a longtime contributor to a host of conservative “culture war” causes – often relating to issues involving sexuality – Ruddy hasn’t made a lot of headlines.

However, his influence extends far beyond Google hits and press coverage. The president of the Boston-based Gerard Health Foundation and the vice chairman of the Board of Directors of Maximus, Inc. – the giant services provider that pioneered welfare privatisation – has committed himself big time to election year politics, turning up the heat on Obama.

He is also fronting a project aimed at damaging the effectiveness of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a well-known national provider of sexual and reproductive health services – especially for poor and uninsured women – that is often the target of anti-abortion protesters.

Ruddy has “close ties to the White House, federal health officials and Republican power brokers that date back to [President George W. Bush’s] days as Texas governor,” investigative reporter Mike Reynolds wrote in a May 2007 piece for The Nation titled “The Abstinence Gluttons”.

According to Reynolds, “Ruddy has leveraged his generous wallet and insider muscle to push an ultraconservative social agenda, enrich a preferred network of abstinence-only and antiabortion groups, boost profits for his company and line the pockets of his cronies – all with taxpayer dollars.”

If it weren’t for Ruddy’s money, the anti-abortion group,, would not have been able to run television advertisements in several battleground states charging Obama with supporting infanticide. As the major donor to BornAliveTruth – a tax-exempt group that is allowed to raise money from individuals in unlimited amounts – Ruddy underwrote the organisation’s 338,000-dollar ad buy in the battleground states of New Mexico and Ohio, Jill Stanek, the head of BornAliveTruth, said in a recent telephone interview.

“Ray [Ruddy] is a rare leader who puts his money where his heart is, and he did much to win George Bush his presidency,” Manuel Miranda, chairman of the conservative Third Branch Conference, told IPS.

Although Miranda maintained that Ruddy’s “small financial support to social conservative efforts is eclipsed by the applied wealth of [financier and philanthropist] George Soros and Hollywood,” Ruddy now appears to be spearheading a campaign – waged by a collection of Christian conservative organisations – aimed at putting Planned Parenthood out of business.

According to a recent report by OneNewsNow, a news service sponsored by Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association, Ruddy is one of those “leading the call” for a federal investigation of Planned Parenthood claiming that the organisation “may have fraudulently charged the federal government millions of dollars”.

“Everybody, since Revolutionary times, has been billing the federal government at the cost – that is the invoice cost to them, plus a fee,” Ruddy explains. “Planned Parenthood in California – and we suspect [other Planned Parenthood agencies] across the country – has been billing at what they call their normal and customary rates.”

“It looks to us, very much, that we found there are a separate set of rules for Planned Parenthood than the rest of us – and there should not be. That’s why the lawsuit was filed,” he contends. “Hopefully the court will act on this, and everybody should be operating under the same set of rules.”

Tait Sye, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, said he was not aware of either Ruddy or the new campaign by religious right groups against the health services group.

“As one of the leading providers of women’s health care, we know firsthand the challenges facing American women and their families,” Sye told IPS. “There is a health care crisis in this country: an estimated 45 million Americans are uninsured, access to affordable birth control has become difficult at best, one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted infection, and roughly 750,000 teenagers will become pregnant this year.”

“Planned Parenthood provides millions of uninsured and underinsured women access to affordable health care. If these groups truly cared about women’s health they would be spending their time and money trying to increase women’s access to health care, not further restricting it,” he said.

The “National Coalition to Defeat Planned Parenthood” says it will seek to completely eliminate federal and state funding for the group, in addition to other actions.

“In the past, there have been may local and statewide efforts to thwart Planned Parenthood, but what makes the National Coalition to Defeat Planned Parenthood special is that for the first time, the major pro-life groups around the country are coming together to implement a unified national action,” said Eric Scheidler, communications director for the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, the group spearheading the coalition.

Ruddy has long had a cozy relationship with policy-makers in Washington. Mike Reynolds pointed out that “One top Bush adviser left [the administration] to take a job at Ruddy’s charity, Gerard Health Foundation, and a senior officer at Ruddy’s for-profit company, Maximus, left to take a top-level position at the Department of Health and Human Services.”

In addition, “Leaders of Christian-right organisations that are Gerard grantees have gained advisory HHS positions – and their organisations have in turn received AIDS and abstinence grants to the tune of at least 25 million dollars. Maximus itself has raked in more than 100 million dollars in federal contracts during the Bush era.”

Before the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, “Maximus was a 50-million-a-year enterprise,” Reynolds reported. After its passage, “Maximus’s earnings jumped to 105 million dollars [and] [t]hree years later its revenues tripled.”

By 2007, Maximus was a “700-million-dollar publicly traded global giant with more than 5,000 employees deployed across the nation and in Canada, Israel, Argentina and Egypt [with]…contracts with state governments to handle child-support collections, implement welfare-to-work and oversee managed care.”

Maximus has contracts with the federal government to handle collections on student loans and Medicaid appeals, managing the Social Security Ticket to Work programme for the disabled, and providing biometric “smart card” technology to the Secret Service, the Treasury, and the Internal Revenue Service, Reynolds reported.

Ruddy retired as chairman of the company in August 2001 in order to “devote more time to his personal interests,” Business Wire reported at the time. Clearly, the defeat of Obama is one of Ruddy’s chief “personal interests” these days.

*Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column “Conservative Watch” documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.

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