Planned Parenthood announces latest outside spending plan in California congressional races

Planned Parenthood of California plans to launch a multimillion-dollar campaign Tuesday to oust Republicans from several California congressional districts, the latest signal of how critical the state’s House races will be in determining which party takes control of the House of Representatives after the November election.

The effort, coordinated by an independent campaign arm of the reproductive rights organization, is a reflection of the role abortion will play in the fall, particularly among suburban women voters, in the aftermath of the 2022 Supreme Court ruling overturning federal protection for abortion rights and subsequent laws passed in several states to sharply limit access to the procedure.

California is expected to be a hotbed of spending by multiple groups on both sides of the aisle because of the number of competitive races in the state.

While Californians in 2022 voted overwhelmingly to enshrine a right to abortion and contraceptive access in the state’s Constitution in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision, leaders of Planned Parenthood and other Democratic groups argue that the election of a Republican president and the GOP taking control of the Senate and the House could result in a nationwide ban.

“The road to [reproductive] freedom runs right through California this year,” Jodi Hicks, the leader of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California VOTES, an independent expenditure committee, told The Times. “We have done what we’ve done to protect California and insure that California is a reproductive freedom state.”

But she said that despite more than two-thirds of voters supporting Proposition 1 in 2022, the state constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights, there is a “disconnect” in terms of understanding that the state’s protection of abortion rights could be eliminated by federal legislative or legal action.

“The only real way to insure California is a reproductive freedom state is making sure we elect a Congress that is committed to protecting those freedoms,” Hicks said. “Every single election we have, politicians can take away those freedoms.”

Hick’s group is the latest Super PAC to announce plans to invest heavily in California’s congressional races.

“This is the state that’s going to decide control of Congress,” said Dan Schnur, a politics professor at USC, Pepperdine and UC Berkeley.

Candidates often rely on outside groups to buttress their campaigns with television ads and other voter outreach because the state is home to some of the most expensive media markets in the nation and the federal limits on donations they can receive is relatively low.

Congressional candidates can receive a maximum of $6,600 in contributions from individuals to their committees, per Federal Election Committee rules. But donors can contribute nearly $2 million to party affiliated committees and unlimited amounts to Super PACs, such as the Planned Parenthood effort, which are barred from coordinating with candidates.

The House Majority PAC, a Democratic effort; a GOP group targeting Latino voters funded by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers; a California Donor Table effort called “Battleground California” led by minority leaders in competitive districts; and other groups have also announced plans to spend in California congressional races.

“As one of the wealthiest states in the world, California could be a beacon of progress and possibility in securing a future where every family can get the healthcare they need, where every full-time job provides a livable wage, and safe and affordable housing is provided not as a luxury but a right,” Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, said in a statement. “Battleground California isn’t just about winning elections; it’s about winning a future that gives everyday people hope.”

The independent arms of the Republican and Democratic national congressional committees are also expected to be active in California, as well as the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Super PAC dedicated to electing Republicans to Congress that spent around $33 million in the state in the 2022 midterm elections.

“For back-to-back cycles, Republicans have won in California with quality candidates who fit their districts and toxic Democrat policies that have left voters fed up with rising crime and skyrocketing costs,” said Courtney Parella, a spokeswoman for CLF. “California is essential to holding and growing our House Majority, and CLF will invest enormously here.”

The Club for Growth, a free-market, limited-government group that has endorsed Scott Baugh in an open, highly competitive district in Orange County, could also weigh in.

Political committees don’t always follow through with their announced spending plans, so it remains to be seen how much the PACs will actually spend in California. But unless there is a seismic change in the nation’s politics between now and the November election, the state is expected to be pivotal in determining control of the House, where Republicans hold a razor-thin majority.

California has the largest congressional delegation in the nation, with 52 members, and because of the state’s independent redrawing of districts, 10 are rated as toss-ups, competitive or potentially vulnerable, according to the the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which has tracked House and Senate races for decades. That’s the most of any state in the nation.

Half of those districts are represented by Republicans in Congress — Reps. Young Kim of Placentia, Michelle Steel of Seal Beach, John Duarte of Modesto, David Valadao of Hanford and Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita — but were won by President Biden in the 2020 presidential election, according to the nonpartisan California Target Book, which tracks the state’s congressional and legislative races.

“It took a few cycles for the impact of the independent redistricting committee to take effect, but once it has, it has created a much larger number of competitive districts,” Schnur said.

He added that two of the issues that appear to be the most salient in this election — abortion and immigration — are at the fore in many California communities.

The eight districts Planned Parenthood is targeting — seven represented by Republicans and the tight Orange County district that is open because of Rep. Katie Porter’s unsuccessful Senate run — all voted to support Proposition 1 in 2022.

“There are a lot of pro-choice suburban women in California who wouldn’t mind seeing a wall at the border” and other aggressive efforts to crackdown on illegal immigration, Schnur said. “This election is going to be fought over which of those two issues matters more. The battle for Congress is a battle for the suburbs, and California is the ultimate suburb.”

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