Ashley Underwood | August 1, 2022 Blog Post

Anti-abortion organization, Real Alternatives (RA), has once again been found to be using taxpayer money to fund its operations and expansion instead of on services. Why does this keep happening?

Five years ago, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale found that RA , an organization that had been tapped to disperse taxpayer money in-state, had instead used public dollars to expand its anti-abortion business nationally. Its scheme involved skimming from state grant funds and using them on out of state operations, an activity which was a blatant violation of its grant contract. 

Once this was uncovered, DePasquale declined to recoup the estimated $800k that was taken and assured the public that mechanisms were in place to end this practice. However, after reviewing 990s, Equity Forward believed RA was still misusing public dollars to enrich itself at the taxpayers’ expense and filed a lawsuit to get access to public records to find out. What followed is the longest-running Right To Know case in Pennsylvania history. 

It turns out Equity Forward’s suspicions were correct. During a court hearing held this past spring, it was made clear that the anti-abortion group, which receives millions each year, is still inappropriately using public funds. Court statements made by RA lawyers, the Commonwealth Court’s majority ruling, and Judge Bonnie Leadbetter’s dissent all point to the fact that RA is still engaging in the same kickback scheme that it was previously ordered by the state of Pennsylvania to halt. And what is even more infuriating is that the court ruling allows RA to continue concealing information about its nefarious practice of siphoning money back from contractors that is actually meant to serve parents and pregnant people.  

However, June’s court ruling didn’t say the practice was acceptable, it only confirmed that RA has in fact entered into a private agreement (also known as Program Defense and Advancement Agreements or PDAAs)  with its subcontractors to collect a percentage of the state funds as a kickback scheme, instead of skimming in the open as they previously had done. As Judge Leadbetter said in her dissent, “Rather, under the terms of the PDAAs, Real Alternatives withholds a fixed percentage of the money invoiced by and due the Service Providers and keeps it to underwrite other activities for which DHS will not pay. In other words, it is a scheme to get DHS to unknowingly pay Real Alternatives for non-government activities, and it uses the PDAAs as the vehicle to that end.” The majority’s opinion also agrees that RA is using state money for its own operations. It states, “We acknowledge that the PDAAs provide for a funding scheme which appears to calculate payments due to Real Alternatives as withholding of a percentage of Grant Agreement funds paid by Real Alternatives to service providers.” 

RA’s current kickback scheme yields the same outcome as its previous scam: public dollars meant to be used by families in need are instead swindled to fund the business endeavors of an anti-abortion organization. Literally hundreds of thousands of dollars that are intended to provide support to Pennsylvanians who are working to make ends meet are instead supporting an organization building its footprint in other states, and to pay its three executives a combined salary of more than $750k annually. 

What makes matters even worse is that RA is thumbing its nose at any level of accountability. RA shows no regard for the legislature which allocates the money to this organization with the expectation to act in good faith, to the Health Department who oversees the contract and has specified this practice should stop, or the auditor who gave them a pass on returning misused money before with assurances that this scheme would stop. Most importantly, by continuing to misuse public dollars, RA lays bare its true disregard for the families and pregnant people they purport to want to help.  

As states seek to give anti-abortion centers like Real Alternatives more money, who is making sure that these programs are acting ethicallys? State policymakers cannot tolerate using public dollars to fund deceptive business practices. Until the deceptive actions of these anti-abortion organizations are stopped, we must continue to ask … where is the accountability?