Why Did HRC & Planned Parenthood Endorse Clinton?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Addresses Burmese Media

THIS MONTH SAW TWO BIG ENDORSEMENTS FOR THE CLINTON campaign, and two big disappointments for the Sanders campaign.

Planned Parenthood is endorsing a candidate in the presidential primary for the first time, and it’s endorsement is going to Sec. Hillary Clinton. It’s nothing new for the organization to endorse a Democratic candidate, but many are wondering why the organization has come out to support one Democratic contender over another before the first primary votes have been cast. It’s a particularly interesting question to mull over when one considers that all candidates in the primary have stellar records on reproductive rights, earning them 100% ratings from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund that delivers the endorsement money.

Planned Parenthood explains on its website why it is endorsing Hillary Clinton, seemingly in response to disgruntled Sanders supporters, by comparing the two candidates’ records. The chart shows that, while Sanders has consistently voted to protect access to safe abortion, contraception, and quality sex education, Clinton has been more proactive by introducing legislation in these and other important areas a number of times.

This election is especially important for Planned Parenthood; over the past year the organization has suffered repeated attacks, both physical and political, as the Center for Medical Progress released a series of spurious “sting videos” portraying Planned Parenthood as an organization that benefits from the heartless sale of aborted fetuses’ body parts. (Luckily, just yesterday, a grand jury in Houston declined to press charges against Planned Parenthood and instead indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, both of whom were involved with the Center for Medical Progress’s sting videos, on felony tampering charges.) Every candidate seeking the Republican nomination has spoken out in support of defunding the organization. In September, the House passed a bill to withhold federal funding from Planned Parenthood for one year, and the bill will go to the Senate next.

Along with the side-by-side analysis of Clinton’s and Sanders’ records, Planned Parenthood provides the following explanation for their endorsement, referring to this particularly challenging time: “With so much at stake in this election, we need someone who will do more than just defend reproductive rights — we need a steadfast champion who will fight to expand them, and do so not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.”

Many Sanders supporters were not appeased by the explanation. The Planned Parenthood Action Facebook page has been bombarded by comments from angry Sanders supporters since the organization announced its endorsement, with many saying that they will no longer support the organization:

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That could be a real problem for Planned Parenthood, which relies on contributions for about 99% of its funds. People should know that donations made to Planned Parenthood do not contribute to the endorsement fund. Elizabeth Boris, director of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at The Urban Institute, explains to Christian Science Monitor: “The misunderstanding is that people are thinking that Planned Parenthood is giving $20 million to Hillary Clinton’s political campaign out of service revenues. That’s not correct. They think money that should be spent on women is part of this money and it’s not. It’s not permitted.” The endorsement money comes from a separate arm of the organization: the Action Fund.

Still, Sanders supporters may pull their support for Planned Parenthood out of principle, and this could harm the organization, whose work is as important as ever.

Last week, the Human Rights Campaign – the largest LGBT rights group in the country – joined Planned Parenthood in endorsing Clinton. In an article for Bustle, I compared the two candidates’ track records on LGBT issues and found Sanders’ record to be stronger and more consistent than Clinton’s. While HRC noted that Clinton’s current plan for LGBT justice as outlined on her website is the more comprehensive one, which is true, I’m feeling like there’s more to the picture here.

While perusing the HRC’s Federal PAC page, I found that #3 on their list of criteria for endorsement is “Viability”: “The interview and/or analysis includes an in-depth review of the campaign and the candidate’s plan for winning the election.” Associate professor Ken Schneck, PhD, voiced my suspicion in a recent Huffington Post article:

HRC’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton is an endorsement of the candidate they think is most likely to win… Given the two candidates, this endorsement can’t possibly be wholly about LGBTQ rights, but instead is an off-shoot of politically savvy HRC throwing their support behind the stronger establishment candidate. If you endorse the candidate most likely to win, then you get in good with the candidate who is (wait for it) most likely to win.

Planned Parenthood and the HRC may have succumbed to the “Clinton inevitability” argument, or the idea that she is the most competitive candidate against a Republican in November – something recent hypothetical general election polls do not suggest. Either way, their endorsements would be rooted more in strategy than principle. Schneck’s comments provide some explanation for why Sanders referred to Planned Parenthood and HRC as “part of the establishment” last week. Sanders drew heavy fire for the comment from the organizations, from Clinton, and from others pointing out that Planned Parenthood is actively fighting the establishment in Congress for its life. But if their endorsement decisions were based on strategy over principle, it would appear that they are participating in politics as usual rather than throwing their weight and influence behind the candidate who is, in many respects, the more progressive choice.