cronies of former U.S. House Transportation Committee Chair Bud Shuster \(Rcan match Tom DeLay’s record for ethics scandals. A 1998 federal indictment charged lobbyist Vernon Clark and exShuster aide Ann Eppard with a bribery scheme to secure federal funds for Boston’s $15 billion “Big-Dig” boondoggle. \(Eppard and Clark pled guilty to related misdemeanor charges in late 1999a year when Eppard reported $1 milindictment lobbyist is Florida’s Arthur “Buddy” Jacobs, who later was acquitted. A 1997 federal grand jury charged Jacobs with conspiring to defraud the federal government when he helped arrange funding for a Florida port. One client that retained Jacobs after his indictment was the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association. PICKETS TO PROFITS On a typical Wednesday at the McClennan County Planned Parenthood clinic in Waco, about a dozen and a half picketers will stand at the corner of the brown rectangular building hoisting signs with photos of abortions so grisly that parents shield the eyes of their children as they shepherd them to the Montessori school across the street. Since January 2002, the Waco-based Planned Parenthood of Central Texas has been turning these protests into profits. Under the Pledge-a-Picket program, each time a protester shows up at the Waco clinic, a donation is made to support its work. “It truly is a win-win situation,” says Trudy Woodson, director of public affairs at the clinic. If a large number of demonstrators appear, the clinic gains financially. But if opponents choose to stay home, Planned Parenthood gains a day of peace. The Pledge-a-Picket campaign allows donors to pledge between 25 cents and one dollar every time a protester arrives at the Waco center. When the program began, donors included individuals from Waco and surrounding areas. But according to Woodson, a recent interview with Planned Parenthood on the national radio program Air America brought more attention to the Pledge-a-Picket program, and has since generated donations from individuals as far away as New York. The Waco clinic is the only Planned Parenthood affiliate to run the program year-round. The Planned Parenthood web site compares the program to sponsoring a runner in a charity marathon. The money raised goes to the clinic’s patient assistance fund, which helps clients without resources get the care they need. With as much as 97 percent of the clinic’s clientele living below the federal poverty line, these patient assistance funds provide crucial reproductive healthcare services, such as Pap smears and breast exams, as well as supporting Patient Assistance Loans for low-income women in the community. Just in case the picketers are unaware of the Pledge-a-Picket program, the clinic posts a weekly sign outside that says, “Even our protesters support Planned Parenthood,” and includes the total dollar amount raised through the program’s donations. “This lets the protesters know how much money they are making for us every time they show up,” says Woodson. At present the program has brought in more than $23,000. The picketers are not amused. “I don’t think pro-lifers are going to fall for this little publicity stunt,” says Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance For Life. Not only are abortion foes not going away, now that the Legislature is back in session, attacks on women’s reproductive rights and access to family planning services are escalating. Yet Planned Parenthood has found a method to use the opposition not only for creative fundraising but to create real grassroots support. “We’re just trying to make lemonade out of lemons,” says the clinic’s Woodson. IT’S MARVELOUS MEDICINE Marcia Baker pleads with legislative aide Jason Nelson, as she sits in her wheelchair, working hard to control her head tremors. Nelson works for Rep. resents a conservative bastion. “Too many families have seen their family members suffer,” Baker tells him. “It has come home.” On February 17, it came home to the Capitol as Baker joined several dozen other advocates, including physicians and patients, for the Texans for Medical Marijuana lobby day. Baker wheeled her way through the halls of the Capitol, stopping at offices to try to convince legislators to favor House Bill 658, which allows people with serious illnesses to use marijuana for medical purposes, as long as their physician approves. A whopping 75 percent of their fellow Texans believe that they should have that right, according to a 2004 Scripps Howard Texas Poll. But it’s a harder sell for politicians terrified of being portrayed as soft on drugs. Baker, 40, suffers from primary progressive multiple sclerosis and has found that marijuana relieves her pain, spasms, and tremors better than many of her prescribed medicationsand without many of the debilitating side effects. HB 658 has bipartisan support and is co-authored by Rep. Naishtat \(Dbaby step in the introduction of medical marijuana to Texas. The bill is written simply to protect patients who use the drug for medicinal purposes, not to make medical marijuana legal. It provides the patient with a defense for possession of marijuana if they can prove suffering from a bona fide medical condition and that they have had a discussion or recommendation from a physician about using marijuana to alleviate their medical condition. Unlike a similar bill filed in the 2001 legislative session that was left pending in committee, HB 658 also provides protection for the physician. “They [medical marijuana patients] are trying to stay alive. This is not about party timethis is about healthcare. We need to protect them, not prosecute them,” said Noelle Davis, the Executive Director of TMM, during the day’s opening press conference. In her lobbying, Baker highlighted the support medical marijuana and HB 658 have in the medical community. continued on page 27 MARCH 4, 2005 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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