Republican congressmen on Wednesday accused the Obama administration of illegally funneling more than $23 million in taxpayer money toward a proposed Kenyan Constitution that has permissive language on abortion.
The funding of pro-constitution agencies in Kenya was discovered as a result of an audit by the inspector general of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Sending foreign assistance money to support legislation on abortion is illegal under the Siljander Amendment, which states that "no foreign assistance funds may be used to lobby for or against abortion."
The proposed 206-page Kenyan Constitution, up for public referendum on Aug. 4, would overturn the current law that permits abortion only when the life of the mother is at risk and add a health exception that pro-lifers say would essentially allow abortion on demand. Further, the new constitution specifically would allow for even looser laws in the future.
Republican Reps. Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, the ranking member on the House Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa, and Frank R. Wolf of Virginia held a press conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to air the information, which they obtained from an audit on which the USAID inspector general is still working.
Republican Reps. Darrell Issa of California and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida also have expressed support for investigating the legality of USAID spending on the Kenyan Constitution.
"U.S. funding should not be used to tell the Kenyan people how to vote," Mr. Smith said. "The draft constitution, with its contentious provisions dramatically expanding abortion, is a matter for the Kenyan people to consider and decide themselves."
Original estimates put the price tag of U.S. involvement in the pro-constitution movement at $2 million, then jumped to $11 million, and were placed at $23 million last week.
The USAID documentation obtained by Mr. Smith shows the U.S. sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to 10 groups that USAID itself describes as favoring a "yes" vote on the Kenyan Constitution.
More of the groups listed in the audit strongly support the constitution, like the "special committee selected by [the] government to support the proposed constitution," which received $99,995 in U.S. taxpayer money. Another group received $91,106.66 intended to "marshal a coalition of pro-constitutional individuals."
Furthermore, many of the groups specifically advocate for women's rights, such as the Foundation for Women's Rights, which received $160,000 in U.S. taxpayer money.
"There's no ambiguity to it," Mr. Smith said of the groups lobbying for abortion, adding that the Obama administration had violated the Siljander Amendment. The amendment is named for its sponsor, Mark Siljander, a former Republican congressman from Michigan.
The House members based their complaint on an audit that USAID says has not been completed or released to the public. Mr. Smith acknowledged that the audit wasn't finished, but said the work that still needs to be done is immaterial to the issue he is highlighting.
The USAID's Inspector General declined to provide audit information to The Times.
Leslie Phillips, press officer at the USAID, provided only a general statement regarding U.S. involvement in the referendum and did not address Mr. Smith's charges.
"Constitutional reform is central to the reform effort and is supported by both sides of Kenya's coalition government," she said. "The United States has been a strong supporter of the constitutional reform process and has funded programs throughout the country that promote dialogue, voter registration and civic education. We urge all Kenyans to educate themselves about the content of the constitution, take part peacefully in the referendum and move forward as a united nation."
The executive branch itself has expressed support for the constitution. In a June interview with the Kenya Broadcasting Corp., Mr. Obama called the proposed document a "singular opportunity to put the government of Kenya on a more solid footing."
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. echoed Mr. Obama's sentiments in his recent visit to the African nation, declaring that a new constitution will "unleash the energy of the youth, deepen the roots of your democracy, and ultimately guarantee [Kenyans'] security."
The current constitution does not refer to abortion, but the procedure is illegal by statute.
Article 26 of the proposed constitution says, "Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law."
Larry Jacobs, managing director for the World Congress of Families, a group that has helped Kenyans who oppose the proposed constitution, says the expanded exception is the problem.
"The problem with that health definition is it's physical, mental and social, and so as it's been used here in Roe v. Wade and the subsequent opinion, if the woman is inconvenienced in any way, then that is how it is interpreted — it essentially allows for abortion on demand," he said.
"Basically, it's a loophole you could drive a truck through," agreed Jeff Sagnip, spokesman for Mr. Smith.
The next step is to discover who organized the funding, Mr. Smith said.
"It's a campaign plan. We're still in the fact-finding phase, but the facts that we've already found are very damning."
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