Jeb Bush’s Woman Problem

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Jeb Bush

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August 10, 2015; Politico

Jeb Bush cannot seem to extract himself from the whirlpool of controversy around women’s reproductive health. According to ThinkProgress, he went on record while speaking to the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville earlier this month that the next president should defund Planned Parenthood. While that statement was unsurprising, given the Republican candidate’s ideology and track record, what infuriated women’s health advocates was his follow-up statement that he wasn’t sure that the government should be spending half a billion dollars a year on “women’s health issues.”

Following widespread criticism, the former governor worked to clarify those comments, explaining that he had misspoken and citing the “countless” community health centers that benefit from funding. However, before the dust settled, he was asked by Fox moderator Megyn Kelly at last week’s GOP debate why he had served on the board of the Bloomberg Family Foundation, which works extensively with Planned Parenthood in Africa and Central America.

Bush initially deflected the question, asserting that his record as a pro-life politician has never been in dispute. When pressed, however, he stated that he did not know about any specific grants made to global reproductive health initiatives. According to Politico, a spokeswoman for Bloomberg Philanthropies said directors do not vote on individual programs.

Unlike many private foundations, whose directors serve without pay, the Bloomberg Family Foundation pays its directors just under $10,000 a year. Bush, who served as a director from 2010 through the end of 2014, earned roughly $37,000 during his tenure with the foundation.

While directors might not vote on specific line item grants included in meeting dockets and on public record, a cursory review of the foundation’s website, news releases and other media offers a well-articulated and compelling look into its mission and grantmaking philosophy. Early on in 2014, it released a press release announcing a collaborative effort with Planned Parenthood Global to provide technical support to local organizations advocating for expanded access to reproductive health care in Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Uganda.

Bloomberg’s interest in women’s reproductive health was underscored at the 2012 London Summit on family planning, where he pledged $50 million through his philanthropies to Family Planning 2020, a broader campaign to ensure reproductive healthcare access to an additional 120 million women and girls in the world’s poorest countries.

While foundation meeting dockets, minutes, and transcripts of discussions are not open to public scrutiny, it is common knowledge to those in the field that initiatives such as these are rolled out following months, sometimes years, of research, debate and discussion at all levels. What begins on the ground through strategic conversations and meetings with similarly situated funders and practitioners carries through into the field, through site visits, due diligence, and the meticulous construction of logic models and metrics so that outcomes are clear and success can be measured. As anyone who has staffed a foundation knows, rationales for new initiatives are developed in the field and vetted in the boardroom, where they must hold up under the intense scrutiny and sometimes skepticism of board members, with discussions often being continued over the course of several meetings.

In an April 2015 newswire, Nonprofit Quarterly correspondent Rick Cohen quoted Bush’s response to a question posed in an interview with Focus on the Family. “I don’t think you pull back from your deeply held views,” Bush told his interviewer. “You need to persuade people that protecting an innocent child is a definition of who we are in the broadest possible sense.”

Assuming Jeb Bush was paying at least the very minimum amount of attention to the new initiatives being developed and rolled out by the Bloomberg Philanthropies between 2010 and 2014, did he pull back from his deeply-held views as plans were laid to bring reproductive healthcare to poor women through the network of Planned Parenthood Global?

Bush may indeed have more questions to answer about his ties with Bloomberg Philanthropies that extend far beyond women’s health. “I joined [the foundation] because of Mike Bloomberg’s shared commitment for meaningful education reform,” he clarified to Megyn Kelly. Fair enough. But surrounding education reform at the foundation are tens of millions of dollars allocated to obesity prevention (through, among other things, taxes on fast food), tobacco control, sustainable cities and clean energy.

Conservatives hold fast to the belief that support for Planned Parenthood can never be justified as long as any amount finds its way into abortion services. Will Jeb Bush be held to the same standard for the four years in which he was paid to steward the charitable donations of Bloomberg Philanthropies?—Patricia Schaefer