In October, Senator Jane Nelson and Representative Jim Keffer teamed up for “The Party.” This fundraiser – usually a celebration of Senator Nelson's “fortieth birthday” – claimed to focus on raising money for a campaign to increase awareness of existing women's health programs in Texas. For a senator so vocally supportive of existing women's health programs, and so completely opposed to the idea of a “war on women,” a successful fundraiser and a program focused on increasing enrollment ought to be news Nelson should be eager to share. Instead, there are only questions and silence.
There is no mention of The Party, the money raised, or the intent to use said funds to support an education campaign focused on women's health on Senator Nelson's website. In an article posted two months after the fundraiser, the interim assignments to study existing women's health programs for the Senate Health and Human Services Committee – which Nelson chairs – are discussed in depth. Not a word is spent on the Senator's supposed efforts to raise funding for any such campaign or to increase enrollment in women's health programs across the state.
How much money was raised? Where did the money go? And why are Keffer and Nelson completely silent about their endeavor?
More on this story below the jump.The Houston Chronicle covered the fundraiser in October. In the article, Stephanie Goodman, a spokesperson for the Health and Human Services Commission, explained the fundraising goals:
[The money will] go into a 501c3 and be used for a public awareness campaign to help tell women about the various state health programs available. Those programs include the Texas Women's Health Program, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, the Expanded Primary Health Program, mental health and substance abuse services and others. The goal is to develop a website and campaign that makes it easier for women to find services.
Though Republican lawmakers in Texas deny the relation, their efforts to deny Planned Parenthood as a provider under the Women's Health Program in 2012 had a direct impact on the very decrease in enrollment Keffer and Nelson supposedly were trying to rectify. Goodman explained,
We're serving about 25 percent fewer women than we were a year ago. We have enough providers to serve more women so we want to make sure women know about the program. Under the Medicaid program, Planned Parenthood not only served many of the clients, they also helped their patients enroll in the Women's Health Program.
The fundraiser appeared to have good intentions of addressing a disparity in coverage as a direct result of Republican actions. However, no news has surfaced about the fundraiser, its success, and the education campaign since.
The invitation to the party said it was “benefiting outreach for the Texas Women's Health Program,” and the disclosure statement at the bottom has this information about the beneficiary: “The Empowerment Project is a 501(c)(3) charity.” Nelson's January finance report lists a donation of $10,000 to the Empowerment Project in August, about two weeks before the event.
The Empowerment Project does not have a website, telephone number, or email address. Brian McCall, a former Republican State Representative from Plano, is listed as the contact for the organization. In a 2011 interview with The Texas Tribune, McCall is credited as the founder and chairman of the organization, which is described as:
…a non-profit organization which has sent more than $10 million worth of math and science books to disadvantaged schools in the Republic of South Africa, and helped construct a library in Vietnam through the Libraries of Love organization. The Empowerment Project also raised more than $350,000 to provide direct support for the medical needs of children in north Texas.
Aside from this three-year-old profile, very little information about the organization is available to the public.
Goodman was unable to speak to the amount raised through the fundraiser, as the HHSC was not directly involved in the event and did not act as a sponsor. However, Goodman did say that the HHSC continued to work with Nelson and Keffer since the event. “They've asked us to look at ways to use that money to help make sure women understand the various women's health services available to them through the state,” Goodman said, “…one of the key components on that campaign would be a website that brings together the various state programs.” The Commission is currently working on proposals for the campaign, looking at vendor proposals for website development, and gathering content about existing state services.
Though it is encouraging to know that Nelson and Keffer are continuing to work towards the goal of “awareness” with the HHSC, many questions about the donations and the fundraiser remain. Exactly how much was raised by The Party, and what percentage of that money will go towards the campaign? At what capacity is the Empowerment Project involved? Who will make the final decisions in terms of content?
A statement from Representative Jessica Farrar preceding the event still rings true. “They are trying to back-pedal. Republicans dismantled the program for a political vendetta,” Farrar told the Chronicle, “I am glad they are trying to rectify it, but we didn't have to be here.”
Neither Representative Keffer nor Senator Nelson's offices could be reached for comment.