Friday, October 2, 1998
James Bopp, Jr., NRLC General Counsel
WASHINGTON -- National Right to Life, the nation's major pro-life organization, has filed a lawsuit charging that a nationwide telemarketing campaign being conducted under the name "American Right to Life" is engaged in "a look-alike program" of "fraud and deception upon members of the public."
The lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court in the District of Columbia on Sept. 30 by National Right to Life, a 25-year-old organization with 50 state affiliates and approximately 3,000 local chapters. In essence, the National Right to Life complaint argues that "American Right to Life" formed recently with a name very similar to National Right to Life, and has employed very similar fundraising solicitations, in order to be confused with National Right to Life and to benefit financially from this confusion, according to James Bopp, Jr., attorney for National Right to Life.
In its sworn complaint, National Right to Life says that beginning early this past summer, many pro-life citizens across the nation began receiving fundraising calls from persons identifying themselves as working with a previously unknown entity called "American Right to Life." Many who received the calls were confused by the similarity in names and presentation, and contributed funds in the erroneous belief that the calls came from National Right to Life, the complaint states.
"American Right to Life" reportedly claimed to be a federal Political Action Committee (PAC), a type of organization that seeks to elect or defeat political candidates -- but during its initial wave of solicitations, "American Right to Life" was not registered as a PAC with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). However, on July 7 an individual named Patrick J. Mooney registered "American Right to Life" as a PAC with the FEC, listing as an address a Mail Boxes, Etc. location.
Later, it was reported that "American Right to Life" had an office in Washington, which turned out to be a small basement apartment of a rowhouse, with no one present when it was repeatedly visited during business hours. Reports filed at the FEC by "American Right to Life" for June, July, and August show that the operation raised $244,252.81 during that period, and of that amount, $242,898.10 had been paid or was owed to Capitol Communications, a Mesa, Arizona, telemarketing firm. Not a single dollar was donated to pro-life congressional candidates during that three-month period, according to the FEC reports.
In its fundraising solicitations, "American Right to Life" claimed to have launched "a massive grassroots lobbying campaign" in support of the bill then pending in Congress to ban partial-birth abortions. However, the National Right to Life complaint states, American Right to Life "has no grassroots organization with which to launch a lobbying campaign, it has only a telemarketing campaign." The House of Representatives voted to override President Clinton's veto on July 23, but "American Right to Life" made substantial expenditures prior to that vote only to the telemarketing firm, Capitol Communications, according to its FEC reports. (Mooney filed a form with Congress registering as a lobbyist on August 14.)
With its complaint, National Right to Life submitted a number of sworn affidavits from persons who felt deceived when they found out that they had given to an organization other than National Right to Life. Also submitted was an affidavit from a former employee of Capitol Communications, who said, "[W]hile employed by Capitol Communications, I became suspicious that American Right to Life was a scam organization. My suspicions were based on many things including: (1) many pro-life citizens had never heard of American Right to Life, (2) the toll-free number that we gave out was a voice-mail box, and (3) although I called, I was not able to speak with a representative from American Right to Life. I was so concerned about the possibility of a scam operation that in July 1998, I contacted the FBI Telecommunications Task Force in Phoenix, Arizona. I believe that they are investigating."
In its lawsuit, National Right to Life has requested that the court order "American Right to Life" to stop using that name or any similar name, and to pay compensatory damages.