TOPEKA, Kan. -- Abortion opponents and abortion rights advocates together spent more than $22 million on a ballot question this month in Kansas, and famed film director and producer Steven Spielberg contributed to the successful effort to affirm abortion rights.
Finance reports filed by 40 groups and individuals with the state as of this week showed that abortion rights supporters spent $11.3 million on their campaign to defeat a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution to allow the Republican-controlled Legislature to further restrict or ban abortion. Abortion opponents who pushed the measure spent nearly $11.1 million.
In Kansas' vote Aug. 2, the abortion rights side prevailed by 18 percentage points or 165,000 votes. It was the first state referendum on abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
“What it did was give huge fuel to the ”no" campaign because we didn’t any longer have to say to people, ‘This could happen or this might be what the Legislature will do,’ or any other hypothetical," said former two-term Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, also a former U.S. health and human services secretary. “They could watch in real time as Missouri shut down abortion.”
Two Republican activists have forced a hand recount of the Aug. 2 vote in nine counties accounting for 59% of the ballots cast, but it won't change the result. They have questioned the conduct of the election without providing evidence of problems.
Other Kansas abortion opponents argue that their cause was defeated mainly by out-of-state donors and groups with ties to abortion providers. Their proposed amendment would have overturned a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights.
“The no campaign’s most recent campaign finance report is a who’s who of out-of-state, liberal elites and shows the lengths they were willing to go in order to keep Kansas a ‘haven’ for extreme practices," said Danielle Underwood, spokesperson for Kansans for Life, the state's most politically influential anti-abortion group.
Spielberg, the Oscar-winning director of films such as “Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Jurassic Park,” contributed $25,000 to the main group opposing the proposed amendment. His wife, actress Kate Capshaw, contributed an additional $25,000.
While notable, Spielberg and Capshaw's donations were far from the largest to the “vote no” campaign. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who ran for president in 2020, contributed $1.25 million, and the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which finances liberal causes, contributed nearly $1.5 million.
In addition, Planned Parenthood affiliates and other abortion rights groups contributed almost $2.3 million to the main vote no coalition. But more than 30 other groups and individuals reported raising funds for their own efforts to defeat the proposed amendment.
On the anti-abortion side, Roman Catholic dioceses and the Kansas Catholic Conference contributed more than $4.3 million to the main coalition pushing the proposed amendment.
Kansans for Life not only spent $1.6 million on its own pro-amendment efforts but it contributed more than $1.1 million to the main “vote yes” group.
In addition, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life has said it spent $1.4 million on bringing a team of 300 college students from across the U.S. to Kansas to canvass in favor of the proposed amendment.
The activists seeking the recount also must file finance reports, Mark Skoglund, the executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission said this week. But one of them, Mark Gietzen, disputed that in a text to The Associated Press, saying, “we are working on Election Integrity,” not promoting the ballot initiative.
Six of the nine counties recounting ballots were wrapped up by Friday evening. The changes in the counties' totals were minor, with a net gain of only 21 votes for the yes side.
Officials said the changes are a mix of human error and how voters marked their mail-in ballots. In one case, a voter put a check mark in the oval that wasn’t picked up by the scanning machine.
The last three counties were the state's most populous ones: Johnson, in the Kansas City area; Sedgwick, home to Wichita, and Shawnee, home to the state capital of Topeka.
Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas.
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