The Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America (CWA), the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), and other women’s groups leading the opposition to the Equal Rights Act (ERA) and the Equality Act are funded by dark money from a variety of right-wing interest groups, Truthout reported in March 2022. Julia Peck, Ansev Demirhan, and Alyssa Bowen wrote that the anti-feminist legacy of Phyllis Schlafly, who pioneered resistance to the ERA back in 1977, “very much lives on” through the Eagle Forum, the CWA, and the IWF. Today, these groups are using transphobia as a new tactic to mobilize opposition to the ERA, a policy designed to guarantee equal rights for all US citizens regardless of sex, and the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
As Peck, Demirhan, and Bowen explained, “dark money”—funding used to influence policy, elections, and other significant political decisions whose precise donors are kept hidden from the public—“gives corporations and the wealthy undue sway in politics with little accountability.” Many of the funders of the Eagle Forum are unknown, Truthout reported, but the Eagle Forum and its related Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund have received “tens of thousands over the years from the Bradley Foundation and Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, which are both massive foundations with deep connections to the far right.”
Between 2010 and 2013, the CWA (and its partner organization, the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee) received more than $11 million from groups associated with billionaire Charles Koch, including Freedom Partners, the Center to Protect Patient Rights, and TC4 Trust. The IWF, which began as Women for Clarence Thomas, also has links to the Koch brothers and the Bradley Foundation. According to the most recent IRS filings of the IWF and its partner organization, the Independent Women’s Voice, the two groups received more than $4.75 million from these organizations since 2014.
Peck, Demirhan, and Bowen reported that anti-ERA groups such as the Eagle Forum, CWA, and IWF are “riding the recent wave of transphobia.” Many of the nation’s recently proposed anti-trans bills are rooted in erroneous and hateful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, much like the Eagle Forum’s opposition to the ERA. For example, in October 2021, a senior policy analyst at the IWF, Inez Stepman, told members of a House committee that the ERA would put women’s physical safety at risk, highlighting an unsubstantiated claim that cisgender women are at a higher risk for violence when incarcerated with trans women. Yet, as Truthout documented, most incarcerated trans people are detained in facilities that align with the sex they were assigned at birth, and in fact, trans women imprisoned with men experience “high rates of extreme violence.”
In the last year, sources such as the Washington Post, NBC News, and the New York Times have covered the recent rise in anti-trans legislation in the United States. However, the corporate press has completely neglected dark money groups’ continued support for conservatives leading the charge against the Equality Act and ERA.
Julia Peck, Ansev Demirhan, and Alyssa Bowen, “Dark Money ‘Women’s Groups’ Are Using Anti-Trans Scaremongering to Oppose ERA,” Truthout, March 22, 2022.
Student Researcher: Mia Wood (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Amber Yang (San Francisco State University)