SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - It calls itself the Center for Medical Progress, and its name has been all over the news in the past few weeks after it began releasing hidden-camera videos that set off an uproar over the use of tissue from aborted fetuses in medical research.
But a review of the group and the small number of people associated with it in public filings suggests there is little to support the lofty sound of its title. The addresses it lists are postal drops in Sacramento and Irvine, and it employs no scientists or physicians engaged in advancing medical treatments.
The people named as its top officers are longtime anti-abortion activists with a history of generating headlines.
The nonprofit organization is also facing legal and regulatory challenges: An abortion provider group is suing it over its clandestine tactics, and the California attorney general’s office has accused it of falling behind on its fees and paperwork and has opened an investigation into its activities.
The center’s CEO defended the organization, saying it has been true to the mission it stated when it registered with the attorney general’s office for nonprofit status in 2013: to “monitor and report on medical ethics and advances.”
“CMP is proud of our investigative journalism work,” David Daleiden said in an email exchange with The Associated Press. He declined to be interviewed by phone.
The group’s release of videos in which officials at abortion providers discuss the use of aborted fetuses for research has set off investigations into whether Planned Parenthood is profiting from the sale of fetal tissue - a claim it denies. The furor led to a failed attempt on Capitol Hill last week to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
In late July, shortly after the group released the first of its videos, the attorney general’s office sent it a delinquency notice saying it hadn’t paid the required fees for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 and hadn’t submitted necessary copies of its IRS forms. If CMP fails to remedy the situation within 30 days, it could lose its nonprofit status.
Daleiden had no comment on the matter.
Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, a major abortion rights group, said the Center for Medical Progress is simply a front for a few anti-abortion activists who set up sting operations to harass abortion providers. The federation won a restraining order against CMP in federal court, barring the release of additional videos secretly gathered during its annual meetings.
“These are anti-abortion extremists who have an agenda to demonize abortion providers,” Saporta said.
The federation is also suing CMP and Daleiden, accusing them of conspiracy and trespassing in obtaining their undercover footage.
The attorney general could be investigating whether the group acted outside its stated purpose in recording and circulating the videos, said Evelyn Lewis, who specializes in nonprofit law at the University of California, Davis.
But she said it is unlikely CMP violated the law, because its stated purpose is so broad and because the organization does not appear to be campaigning for any particular law or candidate.
“It’s not necessarily illegal for them to have an agenda,” Lewis said.
Based on its submissions to the IRS, the Center for Medical Progress took in less than $50,000 in 2014 and thus did not have to disclose its donors. Initial IRS registration forms obtained by the AP show Daleiden is the only salaried member of the Center for Medical Progress, receiving $30,000 a year.
Although abortion is not mentioned in the organization’s paperwork, the three people listed as registered officers have worked for years in the anti-abortion movement.
Daleiden was director of research for the national anti-abortion group Live Action. The Virginia-based group is known for using undercover videos to target Planned Parenthood.
Troy Newman, listed as the center’s secretary, is president of the Kansas-based anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and has posed as a reporter to record conversations with abortion providers in the past. Newman, who lives in Wichita, Kansas, did not return a call requesting comment.
Albin Rhomberg, the center’s chief financial officer, was arrested in 1991 for disrupting a church service during the inauguration of California Gov. Pete Wilson, an abortion-rights Republican. In 2005, he led an unsuccessful attempt to pass a California ballot measure requiring doctors to notify parents or guardians before performing abortions on minors. Attempts to locate Rhomberg were unsuccessful.
The only person without a long history of anti-abortion work is Nichole Surkala, who is listed as the center’s contact if it is sued.
Surkala was convicted in California in 2007 of willful cruelty to her 12-year-old son, according to court papers. Police found she kept a horse and seven dogs in a house in Modesto that was filled with animal feces and rotting produce. Two telephone numbers listed for Surkala were disconnected.
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