For months now, Cory Booker’s policy team has posted e-mails and documents to an open Google group, including correspondence with NARAL Pro-Choice America, a national abortion-rights group.
Seeking to receive the group’s endorsement in New Jersey’s upcoming Senate special election, Booker modified, at NARAL’s urging, a response to a question on the group’s 2014 “candidate questionnaire,” which candidates must submit if they wish to receive its endorsement.
Booker policy director Matt Klapper finalized NARAL’s candidate questionnaire on September 16. But on Tuesday he received an e-mail from NARAL’s political director, Erika West, apprising him that one of Booker’s answers was insufficiently supportive of taxpayer-funded abortions. “We’re almost there,” West wrote, indicating that NARAL’s policy staff had reviewed Booker’s written responses. “Their only wish is that you amend answer #5 on public funding.” The mayor’s original answer, West explained, “gets us into some challenges, because the list of instances where federal funding would be involved isn’t exhaustive.”
Booker’s policy staff proceeded to amend the mayor’s original answer to the question “Do you support or oppose public funding of abortion services for women who depend on the federal government for their health care — including Medicaid and Medicare clients, U.S. servicewomen, federal employees, and poor residents of the District of Columbia?” Booker now makes clear, after the revision, that abortion services should be provided through the Indian Health Service as well as through Medicare and Medicaid. It is unclear whether the campaign has submitted the revised questionnaire to NARAL. It was posted to the policy team’s Google group, which has since been removed from public view, on Wednesday.
The change is a minor one, but sources familiar with the endorsement practices of political-action committees and nonprofit groups — NARAL exists as a 501(c)(3), a 501(c)(4), and a designated political-action committee that endorses candidates for office — describe this level of coordination between a campaign and an outside organization as “highly unusual.”
NARAL’s coaching on the questionnaire was not the first guidance it provided to the Booker campaign. In fact, NARAL held a conference call with Booker’s policy team on August 30, more than two weeks before the campaign first submitted the questionnaire to NARAL for review. After the conference call, NARAL passed along talking points and informational documents. The group’s director of public affairs, Samantha Gordon, followed up with Klapper later in the day: “Your thoughtful questions indicate that you are taking this questionnaire seriously, and we really appreciate it,” she said. “As a follow-up from our call, I wanted to share information that should provide answers to your inquiries on the questionnaire.” Attached to her message were five “policy” documents that contain information about crisis pregnancy centers and the use of public funds for abortions. A separate document titled “Funding Bans T[alking] P[oints]” arrived from West the same day. “Attached are the talking points I referenced on the phone,” she wrote to Klapper. The document includes talking points as well as suggested responses to questions candidates might face on the campaign trail.
Reached by phone on Friday, Gordon tells National Review Online she does not know whether NARAL routinely guides candidates in answering the questionnaire. “I barely know what’s on that questionnaire,” she says. “This is the first time I’ve been involved in it.” She referred us to Donna Crane, NARAL’s vice president of public policy, who said in a statement, “As national policy experts on the issue of reproductive rights, we freely and frequently offer advice to candidates, allied organizations and media to navigate the nuances of complicated policy.” Political director West did not return phone calls seeking comment, and the organization would not say whether it routinely aides candidates in filling out its questionnaire or regularly allows them to modify their answers after the fact.
The Booker campaign did not return a request for comment.
To be sure, Booker doesn’t need much encouragement from NARAL. He opposes parental-consent laws for minors, which he has said may constitute an “undue burden.” He opposes the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, passed by bipartisan congressional majorities in 2003 and later upheld by the Supreme Court — though, curiously, in Friday’s debate with his Republican opponent Steve Lonegan, he said that he supports the federal abortion laws currently on the books. He is a proponent of taxpayer funding for abortions in nearly all instances.
But he wasn’t quite pure enough for NARAL — a problem that, evidently, has now been remedied.
— Eliana Johnson is media editor of National Review Online.