Financial Background on the Fetal Tissue Ban Debate

August 14, 2015

A legislative proposal that would ban the sale and use of tissue, organs and other body parts from aborted fetuses for research has drawn support from anti-abortion, religious and conservative groups and opposition from health professionals, academics and the biotechnology sector.

The measure, Assembly Bill 305, received a public hearing on Tuesday, and appears to have strong support among Assembly Republicans, who control that house by a 62-36 margin. Support for the bill appears uncertain in its present form in the Senate, which the GOP controls by a 19-14 margin. Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is also a 2016 presidential candidate, won’t say whether he supports the bill in current form.

The measure is backed by Wisconsin Right to Life, Pro-Life Wisconsin, Wisconsin Family Action, and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.

Right to Life and Wisconsin Family Action control political action committees (PACs) and corporations that made independent expenditures totaling about $155,000 between January 2011 and December 2014 on outside electioneering activities, like broadcasts ads, to support Republican legislative and statewide candidates. The groups spent nothing to support Democratic candidates during the four-year period.

In addition, Pro-Life Wisconsin’s PAC made direct contributions totaling $5,450 to Republican legislative candidates and no contributions to Democratic candidates between January 2011 and December 2014. The Wisconsin Catholic Conference did not make direct contributions to candidates or spend money on outside electioneering activities during the four-year period.

Opposing the bill are the Wisconsin Medical Society, Medical College of Wisconsin, Bio Forward, and PROFS, which is a University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty advocacy group. Individual and PAC contributions from health care professionals, University of Wisconsin System employees and biotechnology products and research company executives totaled more than $3.8 million to Republican legislative and statewide candidates and nearly $1.4 million to Democratic legislative and statewide candidates between January 2011 and December 2014.

This may be a case where the money spent on campaign contributions and outside electioneering activities was less decisive than a highly motivated grassroots base.