A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds the Obama administration gave taxpayer funds to an organization that illegally lobbied Kenya to liberalize its abortion law as the president’s ancestral nation revised its constitution. Moreover, a high-ranking State Department employee stonewalled the investigation.
The Obama administration dedicated at least $18 million to convince Kenyans to ratify the new constitution, which expanded women’s legal right to an abortion. Although a 1981 law known as the Siljander Amendment specifically states “none of the funds made available under this Act may be used to lobby for or against abortion,” one recipient of U.S. aid pressed the issue anyway.
The International Development Law Organization (IDLO) “provided technical assistance” to the Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review (COE) at each stage of the constitutional review. The U.S. taxpayer paid IDLO $400,000 for this service. After the COE drew up the first draft of the new constitution in November 2009 — which did not mention abortion — “the IDLO report advised that the COE might consider adding language to make clear that the fetus lacks constitutional standing, and that the rights of women under these articles therefore take priority.” IDLO’s report itself stated the COE should “modify [the constitution] to make clear that a person is a human being who has been born,” thus legalizing abortion during all nine months of pregnancy.
The following January, the second draft constitution allowed abortion only if “the life of the mother is in danger.” IDLO responded, “even understanding the powerful feelings invoked on all sides of the abortion issue, the omission of a ‘health of the mother’ exception in this provision seems overbroad.” That is precisely the formula the final draft adopted — despite the fact that the “health of the mother” exception has been used as a massive loophole granting an abortion for virtually any perceived malady including stress.
The report makes clear as many as 24 grant recipients discussed abortion in some way, although none specifically cited the expansion of death as a reason to vote for the new constitution.
The violation of the law has Congressman Chris Smith, R-NJ, livid. After reviewing IDLO’s actions, he asked, “If this isn’t lobbying, what is?” Smith assessed, “The Obama administration basically hired surrogates to do its dirty work of abortion promotion in Kenya.”
One administration official refused to meet with GAO investigators after numerous requests. “That a high-ranking official in the Obama Administration, Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Maria Otero, chose not to cooperate with the GAO as they uncovered procedural and funding problems begs for further investigation and review,” Smith said. “What else might they be hiding?”
Otero traveled to Kenya with Phoebe Asyio, a commissioner on the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission and chair of the Kenyan Caucus for Women’s Leadership (CWL), a pro-abortion organization that supported the new draft constitution. In November-December 2010, Otero met with high-ranking Kenyan officials, including the prime minister, but now refuses to disclose the substance of her discussions.
That U.S. taxpayers subsidized blatantly illegal lobbying on behalf of abortion raises several questions: Where were the U.S. officials who were supposed to oversee these loans and what has been done to assure this abuse of federal dollars will not happen again?
The GAO reports American overseers were asleep at the wheel:
The USAID official responsible for managing this grant told us that IDLO submitted the required quarterly program reports in a timely manner, with copies of its reports to the COE submitted as attachments, including those commenting on the constitution’s abortion-related provisions. She indicated, however, that she had not fully read the attachments until the USAID IG inquiry brought them to her attention in mid-2010.
Future recurrence seems likely. The GAO noted neither USAID nor the State Department — the organizations involved — provide “clear guidance” to their employees about complying with the Siljander Amendment.
Confronted with this unwelcome report, federal bureaucrats told GAO to kindly leave them alone. Attorneys in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser told the GAO “they do not provide a formal definition of lobbying,” and they “preferred to provide advice on a case-by-case basis.”
USAID claimed its lawyers developed an “informal definition” of lobbying following this case — but you cannot lay eyes on it. It is “not formally documented anywhere, and it is not readily accessible to staff outside of the Office of the General Counsel.” However, there is nothing to fear. “The attorneys went on to say that they used this definition to determine that IDLO, in providing advice to the COE on the abortion-related provisions of the Right to Life article, did not violate the Siljander Amendment.”
What Congressman Smith sees as a clear violation of the law will go unpunished, at least by the executive branch itself. Congress must keep up the pressure to find out exactly how the Obama administration used taxpayer funds to advocate for abortion, wrote wiggle-room into the law, and washed its own hands of the mess.