The investigations into Planned Parenthood’s practice of fetal tissue donation are running up quite a tab. Meanwhile, the man who prompted them has not received a single fine.
After anti-abortion activist and Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden alleged in a series of undercover videos last year that Planned Parenthood was selling donated fetal tissue for a profit, Republican-led investigations quickly followed and they have not been cheap.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee panel investigating Planned Parenthood is on track to spend at least $790,000, according to a recent report from Rewire. In addition to the previous congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood, a dozen states have also found room in their budgets for taxpayer-funded inquiries of their own. Texas alone has spent at least $47,000 on what the Austin Chronicle has labeled a “witch hunt.”
Legal fees aside, Daleiden himself has only had to post a single $3,000 bond in Texas.
“Overall, Planned Parenthood and their business partners and allies have thrown everything they had at me and CMP, going as far to collude with corrupt prosecutors in Texas to issue bogus indictments—and they failed,” Daleiden told The Daily Beast, repeating allegations that his January indictment in Texas—on charges of tampering with a government record and soliciting human organs—was politically motivated.
“Nothing is sticking,” Daleiden added.
To be fair, the same could be said of the many investigations he has sparked.
Twelve state investigations into Planned Parenthood have found no proof that the women’s health organization sold fetal tissue for a profit, as Daleiden has repeatedly alleged. As Vox reported, eight additional states have refused to open investigations, citing a lack of evidence, and previous congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood have not turned up proof of criminal wrongdoing.
Whether Daleiden and his CMP colleagues violated the law over the course of their undercover investigation remains an open question. So far, they have been hit with four civil lawsuits, a criminal indictment from a Houston grand jury, and an inquiry from the California Attorney General’s office. But to date, neither Daleiden nor the CMP has received any substantial penalties for their secret recordings.
The criminal charges in Texas against Daleiden and his colleague Sandra Merritt were dropped in July and the California AG’s office is still “in the investigative mode at this point,” as Daleiden’s attorney Steve Cooley told The Daily Beast.
“If they study it carefully they’ll realize that the conduct engaged in by Mr. Daleiden was not criminal under California law,” Cooley added. (The AG’s office did not respond to a request for comment.)
The various civil cases against Daleiden and the CMP are not likely to come to a conclusion until 2018 or later. In February, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) secured a preliminary injunction against the release of some of Daleiden’s footage as part but the CMP appealed in April and there have been no major developments in the NAF lawsuit since then.
Daleiden told The Daily Beast that he is “confident that it will ultimately be overturned as the uncivilized attack on the First Amendment that it is” and the NAF did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Lawsuits from Planned Parenthood itself and the tissue company StemExpress are both nowhere near resolution. Planned Parenthood confirmed to The Daily Beast that their case against the CMP will go to trial in December 2017. Daleiden claims that the StemExpress case against the CMP is “basically on hold now because several early motions are on appeal, which could take a year or longer.” A StemExpress spokesperson told The Daily Beast that the lawsuit “is still on and we are proceeding forward.”
“Both anti-SLAPP motions brought forth by Daleiden and his accomplices have been struck down by the courts, signaling a favorable outcome for our litigation,” the spokesperson added.
But Daleiden would have to fare exceedingly poorly in his legal battles to incur financial penalties anywhere near the amount that Congress has spent investigating the CMP’s claims. As Buzzfeed reported last September, California’s invasion of privacy law has a penalty of up to $2,500 per violation—over 300 times less than the amount the House Energy and Commerce Committee alone has spent looking for proof that Planned Parenthood violated the law.
As Buzzfeed noted, Daleiden’s situation recalls the case of conservative activist and undercover filmmaker James O’Keefe, who only had to pay a $100,000 settlement to an ACORN employee in 2013 after his own heavily-edited videos effectively led to the collapse of the community organization, which once had a budget of $25 million.
In a time when an activist with a camera and an internet connection can put an organization under tremendous pressure, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California (PPAC) believes that stricter laws could be the solution.
On Sept. 1, PPAC announced its support of a bill in the California state legislature that would make it illegal to disclose secret recordings of health care providers “in any forum, including, but not limited to, Internet web sites and social media.”
“Currently, it is illegal in California to record or tape private conversations without all parties’ consent,” PPAC noted in a press release. “But that law was enacted before the internet and before you could post videos at the touch of a button. As Planned Parenthood learned so painfully last summer, it is the disclosure, not the taping, that causes the greatest harm.”
The bill has attracted widespread opposition from organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Los Angeles Times editorial board, which wrote that the bill would be “bad for whistleblowers” like “a patient who sees her doctor handing out opioid prescriptions like candy.”
PPAC, on the other hand, points to the rise in anti-abortion violence and harassment that followed the CMP videos to argue that medical providers need additional legal protection.
“We worked hard to craft a bill that balances the rights of privacy and the rights of free speech,” PPAC president Kathy Kneer said in a statement.
With the bill headed to Gov. Jerry Brown for a potential signature, Daleiden is as confident as ever in his future.
“CMP is in a very strong position right now, and Planned Parenthood’s barbaric business practices have never been more exposed,” he told The Daily Beast.
But whatever the strength of the CMP’s position, Daleiden has exposed nothing to prove that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donation. What he has done is raise questions about the distinctions between legitimate undercover journalism and politically-motivated vendettas.
These are important questions, but also ones that have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.