Planned Parenthood Versus a Bizarre Web of Deceit

The group behind the Planned Parenthood "sting" videos has misled the public, the media, and potentially the federal government. Why does anyone still believe them?

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Sep 1 2015, 10:15pm

Image via Anna Levinzon / Flickr

What is the Center for Medical Progress, the organization behind the recent spate of anti-Planned Parenthood hidden camera videos? According to the group itself, they're "citizen journalists"; according to most news outlets, they're an anti-abortion group; and, according to Media Matters, they're an "extremist organization." It's difficult to arrive on a straight answer, and intentionally so—as the Center Medical for Progress comes under more and more scrutiny, it becomes steadily more apparent that the group has relied heavily, and perhaps illegally, on deceptive tactics since its inception.

Since the organization first burst onto the media landscape with the release of a video purporting to show that Planned Parenthood profits off the sale of fetal parts, critics have suspected that Center for Medical Progress traffics in misleading information: Ethics organizations have accused the CMP of misleading the federal government about its purpose; reports have shown that CMP members adopted elaborate fake identities to deceive Planned Parenthood employees; and experts have determined that the organization's "sting" videos were, in fact, heavily doctored and "deceptively edited."

Roughly two months ago, the nonprofit organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the IRS, alleging that the Center for Medical Progress had violated federal law by misrepresenting itself on its application for tax-exempt status—which could constitute felony perjury. This week, CREW received a copy of that application, which they say provides "more examples of deceptive conduct by the organization." (The Center for Medical Progress, in a predictably unreliable display of "transparency," put these forms on their own website; however, this document differ in several ways from the version CREW obtained from the IRS. Most notably, it's missing a lengthy addendum containing the group's bylaws and other additional information.)

It seems that they have attempted to mislead the IRS as to their activities. You can't do that.

CREW alleges that the Center for Medical Progress has presented a misleading picture in its application form, intentionally obscuring its true purpose: anti-abortion activism. In the full IRS application, this is how the CMP is described: "The Center for Medical Progress develops special educational projects to raise awareness about the medical ethics implicated in medical advances, such as stem cell research, and other bioethical issues. These projects are frequently journalistic and multi-media in format." Abortion is never mentioned once, nor is Planned Parenthood.

The full application also contains detailed descriptions of the Center for Medical Progress' three board members: David Daleiden, the group's founder, who is listed as chief executive officer; Albin Rhomberg, who is listed as chief financial officer, and Troy Newman, who is listed as secretary. As we've previously reported, all three men are heavily involved in anti-abortion activism with varying degrees of extremism. Daleiden used to work at Live Action, an anti-abortion group known for secretly filming encounters at Planned Parenthood locations; Rhomberg has been aggressively harassing pro-choice activists and Planned Parenthood employees for over two decades to the extent that he has an arrest record; and Newman runs Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion extremist group with clear ties to terrorists, including the man who shot Dr. Tiller.

According to the information presented to the IRS, however, Daleiden "has five years of experience in investigative research related to health care and bioethics topics"; Rhomberg "has 3 decades of experience researching bioethical issues and documenting violations of medical ethics"; and Newman "has over two decades of experience in monitoring medical professional compliance with local and state regulations and advocacy for healthcare consumers."

"While I'm not saying that it's a direct lie, they're obfuscating here," said Jordan Libowitz, the communications director for CREW. "It seems that they have attempted to mislead the IRS as to their activities. You can't do that."

It remains unclear why abortion is never mentioned once in the application for tax-exempt status. However, based on the information provided in the application, the IRS classified the Center for Medical Progress as a "Biomedicine, bioengineering group"—which is truly odd when you consider that pro-life advocacy groups have their own designation when applying for tax-exempt status. Live Action—another group known for conducting video "investigations" of Planned Parenthood, where, to reiterate, Center for Medical Progress founder David Daledein used to work—is classified this way.

The Center for Medical Progress has a habit of misleading.

In another notable obfuscation, the Center for Medical Progress clearly outlines in the bylaws it submitted to the IRS that "no substantial part of the activities of [the Center for Medical Progress] shall consist of carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation"—which seems quite at odds with their current mission. The Center for Medical Progress' website has an entire "Take Action" section, on which it explicitly asks visitors to sign a petition asking Congress to "investigate the black market in aborted baby parts" and to "call for an immediate moratorium on taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood pending the outcome of the investigation." In addition, according to CNN, the Center for Medical Progress has said that its "ultimate goal" is seeing Planned Parenthood defunded.

"[The Center for Medical Progress] is clearly on a mission against Planned Parenthood. Their board members are clearly not denying that," said Libowitz, noting that Newman describes the Center for Medical Progress as a "pro-life" organization on the Operation Rescue website. "If, on his own website, he's saying that it's a pro-life group, why don't you see any of that anywhere in the IRS filing? Abortion is never mentioned, when clearly that's their focus. The question becomes: Why did they choose to do this?"

The Center for Medical Progress did not return multiple requests for comment regarding the way it portrayed itself to the federal government. According to Libowitz, however, this sort of intentional obfuscation fits perfectly into a larger behavioral pattern. "[The Center for Medical Progress] has a habit of misleading: By misleading Planned Parenthood and misrepresenting who they were to them; by misleading the public and the press with deceptively edited videos; and by misleading the IRS, with describing themselves in the way that they did."