The Abstinence Gluttons | The Nation


The Abstinence Gluttons

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Over the past six years George W. Bush's faith-based Administration and a conservative Republican Congress transformed the small-time abstinence-only business into a billion-dollar industry. These dangerously ineffective sexual health enterprises flourish not because they spread "family values" but because of generous helpings of the same pork-heavy gumbo Bush & Co. brought to war-blighted Iraq and Katrina-hammered New Orleans--a mix of back-scratching cronyism, hefty partisan campaign donations, high-dollar lobbyists, a revolving door for political appointees and a lack of concern for results.

Research support was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

About the Author

Michael Reynolds
Michael Reynolds's book Bad Faith, on politics, money and the religious right, is due out from St. Martin's in 2008.

One of the chief cooks is a media-shy 63-year-old Catholic multimillionaire, welfare privatizer and Republican donor named Raymond Ruddy. With close ties to the White House, federal health officials and Republican power brokers that date back to W.'s days as Texas governor, Ruddy has leveraged his generous wallet and insider muscle to push an ultraconservative social agenda, enrich a preferred network of abstinence-only and antiabortion groups, boost profits for his company and line the pockets of his cronies--all with taxpayer dollars.

Following the money swirling around Ruddy offers an eye-opening glimpse into the squalor at the heart of the abstinence-only project. One top Bush adviser left to take a job at Ruddy's charity, Gerard Health Foundation, and a senior officer at Ruddy's for-profit company, Maximus, left to take a top-level position at the Department of Health and Human Services. Leaders of Christian-right organizations that are Gerard grantees have gained advisory HHS positions--and their organizations have in turn received AIDS and abstinence grants to the tune of at least $25 million. Maximus itself has raked in more than $100 million in federal contracts during the Bush era.

As for Ruddy's abstinence-only policy, recent reports, including one contracted by Bush's HHS, show that after more than $1 billion has been poured into the enterprise, it simply doesn't work. Already nine states have opted out from federal funds for this faith-based boondoggle in favor of more comprehensive and effective programs of sex education for their youth.

"I can't think of another federal program where so much money was spent without any oversight and to such little effect," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a national organization that promotes comprehensive sexual health policies. "It wasn't that policy-makers didn't know that abstinence-only didn't work. In 2000 the Institute of Medicine issued a scathing report on these programs. But they went full steam ahead despite the warning. It's beyond naïve. It's immoral."

Raymond Ruddy sits on the board of Maximus, a giant government services provider in Reston, Virginia, that pioneered welfare privatization. As one securities analyst observed, "Maximus was in this segment before there was a segment." In 1995 Maximus was a $50 million-a-year enterprise. With passage of the Welfare Reform Act the following year, Maximus's earnings jumped to $105 million. Three years later its revenues tripled. Today it's a $700 million publicly traded global giant with more than 5,000 employees deployed across the nation and in Canada, Israel, Argentina and Egypt. It contracts with state governments to handle child-support collections, implement welfare-to-work and oversee managed care. For the Feds, Maximus handles collections on student loans and Medicaid appeals, manages the Social Security Ticket to Work program for the disabled and provides biometric "smart card" technology to the Secret Service, the Treasury, the IRS.

Ruddy joined Maximus in 1985 and went on to serve as its chairman of the board and as president of Maximus Consulting Group and its research division, the Center for Policy Studies and Surveys, which focuses on welfare and healthcare. Since 2001 he has also headed the Natick, Massachusetts-based Gerard Health Foundation, built on the $115 million retirement package he got from Maximus on resigning as chair in 2001 (he returned as vice chair in 2004) and still entirely funded by his and his wife Marilyn's charitable trust. Few outside the Bay State have heard of Gerard or Ruddy, even organizations that monitor the religious right. As Gerard secretary John Malloy put it in a phone conversation in which he refused an interview with Ruddy, "Ray's the man, but we like to keep him under the radar."

"There are three areas we're about," Malloy said. "We're promoting pro-life causes, abstinence and HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa and we're now moving with that into China." In addition to lavishly funding an army of antiabortion and abstinence-only groups nationwide, Gerard also pumps hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Federalist Society, Americans for Tax Reform, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council and other conservative causes. Through Gerard, Ruddy contracted Chuck Donovan, vice president of FRC, to write an "investigative" attack on Planned Parenthood, published in Crisis magazine. Gerard also underwrote a propaganda video touting Uganda's discredited abstinence-only HIV prevention program.

Ruddy's ties to George W. Bush date back to the early days of Bush's first presidential campaign, when the Texas governor brought on Ruddy's colleague Stephen Goldsmith as chief domestic policy adviser on his campaign. Goldsmith, as Mayor of Indianapolis, had been an aggressive pioneer of faith-based and corporate outsourcing of social services, including abstinence-only education. During Goldsmith's failed bid for governor in 1996, he stumped Indiana with the slogan "I've been CEO of Indianapolis. I want to privatize all of Indiana." And he brought this approach into Bush's campaign.

"My Administration will elevate abstinence education from an afterthought to an urgent goal," Bush told a crowd in New Hampshire in November 1999. In a speech in Indianapolis, Bush promised, "In every instance where my Administration sees a responsibility to help people, we will look first to faith-based organizations, charities and community groups."

It just so happened that while Bush was pitching Goldsmith's dubious policies in New Hampshire and Indiana, Goldsmith was joining Ruddy on the board of directors of Maximus.

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