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MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers has rewarded his political allies at Wisconsin’s largest abortion provider. The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty wants to know what legal authority the governor has in sending $2.4 million of federal COVID-19 aid to Planned Parenthood.

In a letter on behalf of Wisconsin Family Action, Wisconsin Right to Life, and Pro-Life Wisconsin, WILL asserts the Evers administration has gone around the law and the Legislature.

“We want to know exactly what legal authority Governor Evers thinks he has to create grant programs and ignore the (legislative rulemaking process,” said Lucas Vebber, deputy legal counsel for the Milwaukee-based public interest law firm. “Additionally, we want to know why he thinks he can ignore clear and explicit state law prohibitions on funding entities, like Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, that provide abortions and related services.”

As Empower Wisconsin first reported, Evers earlier this month announced $1 million in federal COVID relief funding to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin Inc.

It’s part of more than $82 million in what the liberal governor is billing as “Equitable Recovery Grants.” It’s the kind of funding initiative that has raised questions about Evers’ spending of the approximately $4.5 billion in federal COVID aid — money he effectively has sole discretion over.

Republican lawmakers have accused Evers of using the pot of money like an unregulated re-election campaign slush fund.

Evers previously issued a combined $1.4 million in grant program checks to Planned Parenthood clinics in the state.

As WILL notes, when Wisconsin receives federal funds, state law permits the governor to accept the funds and “designate” the appropriate agency to “administer any such funds.” That’s not a license to establish new grant programs, however. Doing so, WILL asserts, is an act of lawmaking reserved for the Legislature.

“And even if the executive branch could establish new grant programs, Chapter 227  requires state agencies to follow the rulemaking process established in state law,” the law firm states in a press release.

In November 2020, Evers established a $10 million “COVID-19 Pandemic Response Nonprofit Grant Program” to distribute federal COVID relief dollars. The program is where the original $1.4 million in Planned Parenthood funding came from. It was not established by the Legislature and the Wisconsin Department of Administration failed to follow the legal rulemaking process when establishing standards for grant applications, WILL says.

“This is unlawful,” according to the law firm.

Planned Parenthood, too, appears to be double-dipping.

Criteria established by Evers’ Department of Administration for applicants to the Nonprofit Grant Program bar entities that “have received funding from another CARES Act program.” Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin received CARES Act funds from the Paycheck Protection Program – violating the terms of the Wisconsin DOA grant, WILL alleges. The nonprofit received nearly $2.65 million in PPP forgivable loans, the bulk of that going to payroll, according to ProPublica’s database.

Abortion providers continued to operate during the pandemic, effectively considered “essential” businesses under the governor’s “safer at home” order. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, which performs abortions at three of its two-dozen clinics statewide (Madison, Milwaukee, Sheboygan), quickly posted on its Facebook page that its sites would remain open following Evers’ lockdown order.

Beyond the conflicts, state law that clearly bars “federal funds passing through the state treasury as a grant” awarded “wholly or partially or directly or indirectly” to a pregnancy program that (1) “provides abortion services,” (2) “promotes, encourages or counsels in favor of abortion services,” or (2) “makes abortion referrals.”

As WILL notes, Planned Parenthood Wisconsin meets all of the criteria, making each of these grants unlawful.

Officials from Evers’ office did not answer Wisconsin Spotlight’s request for comment.

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