Conservative law firm claims governor illegally channeled federal COVID-19 relief funds to Planned Parenthood

Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty alleges creating grant programs without legislative approval also illegal

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin facility in Madison, Wis. Bill Martens/WPR

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty is alleging Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has violated state law by issuing grants of more than $2 million worth of federal COVID-19 stimulus funding to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

In a letter sent on behalf of anti-abortion organizations Wisconsin Family Action, Wisconsin Right to Life and Pro-Life Wisconsin, the law firm argues that Evers administration illegally created grant programs without approval of the Republican-controlled state Legislature in order to distribute federal stimulus funds.

In addition, Dan Lennington, WILL deputy counsel, said that the governor violated a state statute that prohibits funding from state sources going to health care providers that administer abortions.

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“So, we’ve sent this letter on behalf of Wisconsin Right to Life and Wisconsin Family Action and Pro-Life Wisconsin asking Gov. Evers to tell us what authority he has to do this and why the state law, which prohibits funding for Planned Parenthood, is somehow not applicable to this situation,” said Lennington.

A statement emailed Monday to WPR by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin said the organization was eligible to receive COVID-19 relief funds “which supported our ability to operate our family planning health centers and provide essential health care services, such as birth control, (sexually transmitted infections) testing and life-saving cancer screenings during the pandemic and aim to reduce health disparities.”

Wisconsin received $1.9 billion in federal funding under the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and more than $2.5 billion via the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

“The assertion by organizations with a clear political agenda that Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is ineligible for CARES or ARPA grant funding, or needs to return any such funding, is a misreading of both Wisconsin and federal law,” read the statement.

If Evers is unable or unwilling to explain his grant disbursements to Planned Parenthood and other organizations, Lennington said the firm might sue. Lennington said WILL estimates nearly $2 billion of federal funding has been distributed by grant programs created by the administration.

“This is quite a huge amount of money that we claim he’s illegally spent,” said Lennington. “If we are wrong, we’d like him to point this out exactly where we’re wrong. But as far as we see it, he has violated the law. He’s not allowed to create programs out of thin air. That’s not the job of the executive branch and the governor. That’s the job for the Legislature.”

In response to the letter, Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback criticized state Republicans for taking a “nearly 300-day vacation” amid the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic while the governor worked to support small businesses, farmers and improving high-speed internet access.

“So, it’s no surprise Republicans and their allies are continuing to play politics while failing to support our state’s economic recovery and trying to obstruct efforts to get resources to folks across our state,” said Cudaback.