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Right-Wing Billionaires Are Funneling Money to Stop Ohio’s Abortion Ballot

Conservative donors far from Ohio are pulling all the stops to try to doom the abortion ballot.

A protester holds a placard that reads "We will not go back" in support of abortion rights, Dayton, Ohio, May 2022. Other protesters stand nearby.
Whitney Saleski/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
A protester holds a placard in support of abortion rights, Dayton, Ohio, May 2022.

Right-wing donors across the country are pouring money into Ohio to try to influence a special August referendum and ultimately block enshrining abortion protections in the state constitution.

Abortion is currently legal in Ohio until about 22 weeks, although not for lack of GOP efforts after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Ohioans will vote in November on a constitutional amendment that would allow people to decide for themselves about all reproductive health. The state could only restrict abortion access after a doctor determines the fetus is viable, or could survive outside the uterus. And even then, abortions can be performed if the patient’s health or life is at risk.

Ohio currently requires only a simple majority of votes to amend the constitution. But Republicans have pulled out all the stops in trying to block the abortion amendment. So first, Ohioans will vote in August on a measure that would raise the threshold for constitutional amendments to a 60 percent vote.

The main “yes” campaign committee calling for the higher threshold, Protect Our Constitution, has raised a little more than $4.85 million, per a financial filing first reported in the Ohio Capital Journal.

Nearly all of that—$4 million—came from Richard Uihlein, a billionaire right-wing megadonor in Illinois. Other contributions have come from Georgia, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C. In total, only 14 percent of the money raised (less than $700,000) has come from within Ohio.

Three other “yes” groups have also raised millions of dollars primarily from far afield. One of those groups, Protect Women Ohio Action, is actually based in Virginia. Its primary donor is the Concord Fund, also known as the Judicial Crisis Network, a D.C.-based organization that backs conservative judges. Protect Women Ohio Action’s two other major donors are Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and the Catholic Church.

To be fair, it’s a similar picture on the opposing side, which has raised $14.8 million. Only about 16 percent of those funds came from Ohio donors, while the rest came from left-leaning philanthropic organizations and a Silicon Valley psychiatrist and philanthropist named Karla Jurvetson.

Still, it’s notable that right-wing donors outside of Ohio are so determined to stop people from changing their own constitution. If the “yes” groups prevail, they could block abortion protections in the fall. GOP lawmakers insist that raising the threshold is not about abortion, but Secretary of State Frank LaRose gave the game away in June, saying, “This is 100 percent about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution.”

All of these right-wing efforts may still fail, because they completely ignore the will of the people. A USA Today Network/Suffolk University poll released in July found that only 26 percent of Ohio voters support increasing the amount of votes needed to amend the constitution, while 57 percent oppose it.

Another poll, released last week by the same organizations, found that 58 percent of Ohioans support the amendment to guarantee access to reproductive services, while just 32 percent oppose it. The support crosses party lines, with a third of Republicans backing the amendment, as well as 85 percent of independent women—a crucial voter demographic.

Biotech Firm Is Paying Up Big-Time to Henrietta Lacks’s Family

The family of Henrietta Lacks has reached a historic settlement with the firm that took her cells without her consent.

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty Images
A photo of Henrietta Lacks sits in the living room of her grandson, Ron Lacks, in Baltimore.

The multibillion-dollar biotech company that has used Henrietta Lacks’s cells, taken without her consent or knowledge, for 70 years is paying up, after reaching a historic settlement with her living relatives.

In 1951, Lacks was treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore. During the treatment, researchers secretly sampled cells from her cervix. Lacks died of her cancer a few months later, and around the same time, researchers discovered her cells were capable of regenerating outside the body.

They shared the “HeLa” cells with other scientists, and the cells have since been used to develop vaccines for polio and Covid-19, as well as the world’s most common fertility treatment, among other things.

Her family sued the Massachusetts-based biotech company Thermo Fisher Scientific in October 2021, arguing that the cells belong to Lacks and that she—and her estate—should be compensated when companies use them for research and product development.

Thermo Fisher Scientific officials had previously argued that her descendants had waited too long to sue. The company also said it was being unfairly singled out, because countless other companies around the world also use HeLa cells without paying.

But the settlement, reached late Monday, opens the door for the Lacks family to succeed in other complaints seeking compensation for and control of the HeLa cells. The terms of the settlement are confidential, but the agreement is a crucial step forward in helping Black people reclaim their agency in the medical industry.

Lacks’s ordeal is part of a long history of Black people, particularly Black women, being used for scientific experimentation without their consent. Her family’s lawsuit touched on this, arguing that “the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks represents the unfortunately common struggle experienced by Black people throughout history.”

“Indeed, Black suffering has fueled innumerable medical progress and profit, without just compensation or recognition. Various studies, both documented and undocumented, have thrived off the dehumanization of Black people.”

Great “Reset”: DeSantis Makes Cringey Joke About Kids With Depression

When lagging in the polls, definitely make fun of kids ... said absolutely no one.

Ron DeSantis
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis’s latest attempt to make fun of Democrats has resulted in a cringey and incomprehensible dig at people with depression.

During an event at a coffee shop in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on Friday, DeSantis tried to demonstrate how he is overhauling the main message of his campaign. He made some biting comments about Joe Biden and slammed the (actually pretty good) state of the U.S. economy. But he ended up falling back on his old favorites: fighting “woke” culture and taking the country backward on racial justice and human rights.

At one point, a 15-year-old asked about military service restrictions on people with mental health disorders. DeSantis has been playing up his military experience—a marked shift from when he would snap at reporters who asked him about his time working at Guantánamo Bay—so you’d think he’d have some good talking points prepared.

You’d be wrong.

“I can’t legally vote,” the 15-year-old said, “but I struggle with major depressive disorder.”

DeSantis interrupted to quip, “It’s never stopped the other party from not letting you vote.”

It is entirely unclear what DeSantis meant with this comment. He could be complaining about letting people with mental health issues vote, which is the same as saying someone with the flu shouldn’t vote. Or he could be complaining about voting rights for minors, which does not exist. His use of a double negative makes the remark even more confusing.

(If you figure out what he’s trying to say there, please let us know.)

The teenager continued talking, and DeSantis replied blandly by saying he wasn’t sure what restrictions were in place but that any such rules are to ensure “whatever is best for the unit.”

Despite being touted early on as the natural successor to Donald Trump, DeSantis has struggled to take off as a candidate. He’s the runner-up to Trump in the polls, but by a massive margin.

In recent months, his campaign has shed more than a third of its staff and tried to pivot its messaging. Staffers have planted horrific campaign ads that attempt to show what a good conservative warrior DeSantis is but instead have backfired spectacularly. And none of this is helped by the fact that DeSantis is apparently terrible at small talk.

Team DeSantis Created That Weird Meme Video With the Giant Nazi Symbol

The campaign has an entire war room dedicated to making the meme videos.

Ron DeSantis
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Ron DeSantis

The DeSantis campaign made that weird meme campaign video featuring a giant Nazi symbol—and then planted it in a fan account.

The campaign last week faced backlash after a top staffer reshared a video, in which an image of DeSantis was layered with a Nazi symbol, the Florida flag, and marching soldiers. The video was first posted by the Ron DeSantis Fancams Twitter account and later deleted.

But reporting from Semafor confirmed what many had suspected: The DeSantis campaign made the video.

A Signal text message chain titled “War Room Creative Ideas” was responsible for the creation of the video, as well as a rabidly homophobic ad released earlier this month. That video too was planted in a fan account.

In the Signal channel, managed by DeSantis rapid response director Christina Pushaw, people praised the video when it was first created, according to Semafor.

“This belongs in the Smithsonian,” wrote Kyle Lamb, the campaign’s director of research and data, before the ensuing backlash. Lamb was let go days later, amid massive layoffs in the DeSantis campaign.

It’s not clear who shared the image of the Nazi symbol that made it into the video.

The far-right circular symbol is known as a “sonnenrad,” a symbol co-opted by Nazis in their attempt to claim an “Aryan heritage.” Today, it’s often found in white supremacist literature and the manifestos of far-right mass shooters.

As the very bad Nazi memes roll in, DeSantis supporters are reportedly getting fed up with the campaign’s priorities.

One donor told Rolling Stone: “If they keep blowing money on fucking memes, I’m out.”

Trump’s PAC Near Broke as He Burns Through Donors’ Money

Trump’s legal fees are getting expensive.

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s political action committee is nearly broke, after spending tens of millions of dollars—nearly everything in its bank account—on the former president’s many, many legal fees.

Save America PAC started out last year with $105 million, but now it has less than $4 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings released on Monday.

In fact, things are so bad that Save America requested a $60 million refund it had previously given to a pro-Trump super PAC. The super PAC has already reimbursed it $12.25 million, nearly its entire intake from the first half of the year, an exchange that has increased scrutiny on the two political organizations’ spending.

Save America had already prompted closer inspection from special counsel Jack Smith, who is investigating Trump’s role in the January 6 riot, for paying lawyers representing witnesses in Trump’s lawsuits. The PAC is legally forbidden from directly spending money on his presidential campaign.

But by donating $60 million to the pro-Trump super PAC, Save America was able to skirt that law. Meanwhile, the $12.25 million refund is believed to be the largest on record in the history of federal campaigns. But by returning the money, the two political action groups may have violated a different law.

The super PAC, which is purportedly an independent entity, and Save America, which Trump controls, are forbidden from coordinating on strategy. “So for the super PAC and the Trump PAC to be sending tens of millions dollars back and forth depending upon who needs the money more strongly suggests unlawful financial coordination,” Adav Noti, a former lawyer for the FEC’s litigation division, told The New York Times.

“I don’t know that calling it a refund changes the fundamental illegality,” said Noti, who is now the legal director of the watchdog group the Campaign Legal Center.

By shuffling money back and forth, Save America and the super PAC are able to balance the two main strategies for Trump’s main goal: staying out of prison. On the one hand, Save America is bleeding money to cover legal fees for Trump and his allies. On the other, the super PAC is aggressively spending money to try to get Trump reelected. Earlier this year, the super PAC spent more than $23 million on attack ads against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is second to Trump in the polls (although by a wide margin).

But it’s no surprise that Trump is having to spend so much on lawyers. Smith is expected to indict Trump any day now for his role in trying to overturn the 2020 election. A similar indictment out of Georgia is expected to follow soon.

Trump has already been charged with business fraud in New York and endangering national security in Florida. He has also been found liable of sexual assault and defamation, and has been sued for defamation yet again.

Take That, Tuberville: Biden Rejects Plan to Move Space Command to Alabama

Biden has overturned a Trump decision to move Space Command headquarters from Colorado.

Leon Neal/Getty Images

President Joe Biden will keep the U.S. Space Command headquarters in Colorado, instead of moving it to Alabama as his predecessor wanted, a move many fear will aggravate ongoing political debate.

Days before he left office, Donald Trump announced that Spacecom headquarters would move to Alabama, bragging he was “single-handedly” responsible for the state’s selection. The Biden White House ordered multiple reviews—both of the process that led to Trump’s decision and a review of that first review—to determine whether the move was politically motivated.

Although no improper political influence was found, Biden has decided to keep Spacecom in Colorado, senior U.S. officials told the AP on Monday, speaking anonymously. The officials said the head of Spacecom, General James Dickinson, successfully argued to the president that moving the headquarters would jeopardize military readiness.

The choice of the phrase “military readiness,” even if the AP is paraphrasing, is notable considering the ongoing battle between the Department of Defense and Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville. Tuberville has blocked hundreds of military promotions since March in objection to the Defense Department’s abortion policy. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters two weeks ago that Tuberville’s blockade “is a readiness issue.” The secretary has previously warned the block “harms America’s national security.”

The officials told the AP that abortion had no effect on Biden’s decision. Other proponents of keeping the headquarters in Colorado said a move would stall Spacecom’s progress, in part because new headquarters in Alabama wouldn’t be completed until after 2030.

But the administration’s initial review of the decision to move Spacecom to Alabama came just months after the state implemented a law banning nearly all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest.

Other Alabama lawmakers had expressed concerns that Tuberville’s dangerous abortion protest would affect the Spacecom decision. The Alabama delegation sought in May to meet with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall about the delay in the headquarters’ move.

“It saddens me that my senator is holding hostage these military promotions,” Representative Terri Sewell, Alabama’s lone Democratic lawmaker, told Punchbowl. “I hope that that won’t affect—but I’m afraid it will affect—the decision.”

Keeping Spacecom in Colorado means that Alabama will miss out on 1,400 jobs and millions of dollars in economic impact. Whether or not Tuberville’s blockade was actually a factor, he could well get blamed in the court of public opinion.

Trump Is Crushing DeSantis (and Every Other GOP Candidate)

A new poll shows the former president dominating the field of Republican presidential contenders.

]Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump enters Erie Insurance Arena for a political rally while campaigning for the GOP nomination in the 2024 election on July 29, in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Despite Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s desperate efforts to declare the Republican presidential primary a two-person race, a New York Times/Siena College poll released Monday shows a decidedly one-sided competition. Former President Donald Trump is currently crushing the competition, leading the pack of candidates with support from 54 percent of Republican voters. DeSantis, by comparison, earns support from 17 percent of voters—with a bevy of also-rans also running in the low single digits.

Cut those candidates from the contest, and things don’t look much better for the Florida governor: When asked who they would support if the only choices in the GOP primary were Trump and DeSantis, 62 percent of Republican voters opted for Trump, compared to 31 percent for DeSantis.

Republican voters see Trump as a stronger candidate than DeSantis: 69 percent said that Trump was a “strong leader,” and 67 percent said he was able to “get things done,” compared to 22 percent of GOP voters who believe the same of DeSantis. Fifty-eight percent also believe that Trump could beat President Joe Biden, as compared to 28 percent who think the same of DeSantis. On the upside for DeSantis, voters believe he is more “moral” and “likable” than Trump—however, they also think he is less “fun,” with 54 percent of GOP voters saying Trump is fun, compared to just 16 percent who believe DeSantis is fun.

Despite Trump’s numerous scandals, the litany of federal and state indictments that have piled up, and the fact that he encouraged an effort to overturn the 2020 election—culminating in the siege of the Capitol by his supporters on January 6, 2021—most Republican voters are unfazed by any of his alleged wrongdoings. Just 19 percent said that his actions in the wake of the 2020 election posed a serious threat to democracy, and only 17 percent believe Trump committed any serious crimes, even after he was charged by a federal grand jury on charges of mishandling classified documents. But even among those who believed he did commit serious crimes, in a head-to-head matchup with DeSantis, Trump received 22 percent support from that pool of voters.

No other Republican candidate received more than 3 percent support. Former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott each reached 3 percent support, while former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy each earned 2 percent. Although Scott has been steadily climbing in some polls, it appears he still has a ways to go before he is considered even remotely competitive with DeSantis, much less Trump.

Shocker: Trump Is Chickening Out of the Republican Debate

The Republican front-runner has no interest in being on a stage with the other candidates.

Donald Trump
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Donald Trump

Donald Trump has decided that he won’t participate in the first Republican presidential debate.

If Trump had decided to attend the debate, set for August 23, he would have faced off against Ron DeSantis, who is the closest behind Trump in the polls (although still by a big stretch). Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie, and Doug Burgum have also qualified.

However, Trump announced Monday that he has no plans to take part. “Let them debate so I can see who I MIGHT consider for Vice President!” he wrote on Truth Social.

Trump has been threatening for a while not to participate in the debate. He even asked the crowd at a rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, on Saturday if he should take part in the debate and was met with a chorus of “No”s.

Trump probably knows that he’ll be the front-runner regardless of whether he debates. Other candidates have tried to goad him into participating, particularly Christie, who predicted Sunday that by the time the debate rolls around, “the front-runner will be out on bail in four different jurisdictions—Florida, Washington, Georgia and New York.”

But the former president seems unfazed. “Why would I give [the other candidates] time to make statements?” he told Reuters last week. “Why would I do that when I’m leading them by 50 points and 60 points?”

While his lead isn’t quite that much, a New York Times/Siena poll published Monday found Trump is leading DeSantis by 37 percentage points.

Trump has called Fox News, which is broadcasting the debate, a “hostile network.” He also previously criticized his former favorite network for not covering his campaign events.

Trump is far and away the front-runner among Republican candidates, despite all of the indictments either already issued or pending against him. Last week, Trump promised to run even if he is convicted and imprisoned. And if anything, the multiple indictments against him have only made him more popular.

Free Speech Champion Elon Musk Threatens to Sue Group Tracking Twitter Hate Speech

Free speech man upholds free speech.

Nathan Laine/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Twitter owner Elon Musk

Twitter, which owner Elon Musk promised would become a bastion of free speech, has threatened legal action against a nonprofit that studies misinformation and hate speech for highlighting the social network’s flaws.

X Corp, the parent company of Twitter (newly and unsuccessfully renamed, sent a letter on July 20 to the Center for Countering Digital Hate accusing the group of making “a series of troubling and baseless claims that appear calculated to harm Twitter generally, and its digital advertising business specifically.”

X Corp threatened to sue, alleging the nonprofit was funded by Twitter’s competitors or foreign governments “in support of an ulterior agenda.” The letter specifically cited research on hate speech on Twitter that the center published in June. One of the eight papers the organization published found that Twitter took no action against 99 of the 100 Twitter Blue accounts that the center had reported for “tweeting hate.”

The center’s chief executive, Imran Ahmed, slammed the legal threat. “Elon Musk’s actions represent a brazen attempt to silence honest criticism and independent research,” he told The New York Times. The organization also said it had not accepted funding from any other tech companies, foreign governments, or their affiliates.

Ahmed also accused Musk of wanting to “stem the tide of negative stories and rebuild his relationship with advertisers,” who have left Twitter in droves since Musk took over. The platform’s U.S. advertising revenue from April to May of this year was just $88 million, down 59 percent from the same time period last year. The platform is worth a third of what Musk originally paid for it.

Some of that may be due to the fact that Musk has allowed Nazis and the Taliban on Twitter—and even verified them. He also has done nothing to rein in antisemitic and transphobic speech on the platform. If anything, he’s one of the main sources of it.

So in that sense, Musk is actually upholding free speech. It’s just that his idea of free speech means saying the grossest things humanly possible and facing zero consequences for it.

Georgia Judge Slaps Down Trump’s Effort to Block New Indictment Charges

Things are not going well for Donald Trump.

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Donald Trump

A Georgia judge has rejected Donald Trump’s bid to block potential new indictment charges in the investigation into his efforts to overthrow the 2020 election.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney on Monday ruled that Trump cannot stop Georgia prosecutors from trying to investigate him.

“While being the subject (or even target) of a highly publicized criminal investigation is likely an unwelcome and unpleasant experience, no court ever has held that that status alone provides a basis for the courts to interfere with or halt the investigation,” wrote McBurney.

McBurney has overseen District Attorney Fani Willis’s investigation into Trump’s efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results. In his nine-page ruling, he rejected Trump’s motion and also went on to skewer him for fundraising off of the multiple investigations and indictments against him.

“For some, being the subject of a criminal investigation can, à la Rumpelstiltskin, be turned into golden political capital, making it seem more providential than problematic,” he wrote. “Regardless, simply being the subject (or target) of an investigation does not yield standing to bring a claim to halt that investigation in court.”

Trump had tried to argue that the case was unconstitutional and that Willis’s work for Democrats represents a conflict. But McBurney was not swayed by the arguments.

“While both sides have done enough talking, posting, tweeting (‘X’ing’?), and press conferencing to have hit (and perhaps stretched) the bounds of Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct … neither movant has pointed to any averments from the District Attorney or her team of lawyers expressing belief that Trump … is guilty or has committed this or that offense,” he wrote.

“Put differently, the District Attorney’s Office has been doing a fairly routine—and legally unobjectionable—job of public relations in a case that is anything but routine.”

Two weeks ago, Georgia’s Supreme Court also unanimously rejected Trump’s bid to stop the investigation.

On Saturday, Willis announced that her team is “ready to go” and she will announce a decision on new charges against Trump by September 1.

“The work is accomplished,” Willis told local outlet 11Alive. “We’ve been working for two and a half years.”

“Some people may not be happy with the decisions that I’m making,” she added.