Staff Affiliation of PEPFAR Agencies, Lobbyists Heavily Biased toward Democratic Party
The staff responsible for carrying out the day-to-day administration of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) have a strong partisan bias towards Democrats, according to an August report published by The Heritage Foundation. According to FEC filings for the 2019-2020 election cycle reviewed by Heritage, over 90% of staff who donated to political causes donated to Democrats — for both government agencies and top program partners.
As the premier U.S. program for international AIDS prevention, PEPFAR has enjoyed bipartisan support since its creation under President Bush in 2003. But with its five-year authorization expiring at the end of the month, pro-lifers have warned the program needs new guardrails against promoting abortion and comprehensive sexuality education overseas.
“Although PEPFAR was created by a Republican President and enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress, our political donation analysis indicates that it is an entirely Democrat-run program,” said Heritage Foundation Visiting Fellow Tim Meisburger. Meisburger questioned whether PEPFAR was really administered on a nonpartisan basis when its administrators overwhelmingly supported one party.
The primary agencies tasked with administering PEPFAR are the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Heritage reviewed FEC data on political donations for State Department and USAID employees in the 2019-2020 election cycle.
After controlling for political appointees — primarily ambassadors — at the State Department, Heritage found permanent staff made 44,000 political donations to Democrats totaling $2,236,000, or 93%, while only 2,000 political donations totaling $175,000 going to Republicans. Of those donations, $626,000 went to Biden’s campaign, but only $84,000 went to Trump’s campaign — while Trump was still president.
At USAID, Heritage found 1,001 staffers who donated to Democratic candidates and PACs (97%), while — excluding 32 political appointees — only 32 donors contributed to Republican candidates and PACs. These donors gave $631,000 (96%) to Democrats and $24,000 (4%) to Republicans.
Heritage found that the overwhelming partisan dominance of the Democratic Party held for top PEPFAR recipients, too. They reviewed the political donations for employees at the four largest recipients of PEPFAR funds: for-profit consulting firm Chemonics and three non-profits, Family Health International (FHI) 360, the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Program (ICAP) at Columbia University, and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). TWS previously reported the pro-abortion stances of FHI and EGPAF. These four organizations received a total of $1.2 billion in PEPFAR money in 2022.
According to FEC data, Heritage found that 369 Chemonics employees donated $145,316 (97%) to Democratic candidates and PACs but only six employees donated $4,625 (3%) to Republicans. For the three nonprofits, Heritage found that 300 employees donated $148,644 (99.8%) to Democrats, while only two employees donated $262 (0.2%) to Republicans.
Meisburger extended the analysis beyond PEPFAR and found that the rank-and-file staff at all of USAID’s top 10 grantees — for any foreign aid program — skew overwhelmingly toward Democrats. Ranking ninth on the list was the largest (by government grant dollars received) evangelical charity, World Vision. According to FEC data reviewed by Heritage, 176 World Vision employees made 3,071 contributions totaling $86,734.89 in the 2019-2020 election cycle. Those donations favored Democrats 10-to-one, with $79,245.64 (91%) going to Democrats and $7,489.25 (9%) going to Republicans.
Yet this Democrat-to-Republican donation percentage was the lowest among the top 10 USAID grantees. Catholic Relief Services was second-lowest with 94% of donations going toward Democrats, and Democrats received between 96% and 100% of employee political contributions for the other eight top grantees.
Heritage also reviewed political donations by employees of InterAction, “the largest coalition of international NGOs in the United States.” They found that “29 InterAction employees made 366 individual contributions totaling $18,470.53, with all of its employee contributions going to Democrats.”
“According to its website, InterAction is a nonpartisan convener, thought leader, and voice for NGOs that mobilizes its members to think and act collectively to serve the world’s poor and vulnerable,” wrote Meisburger. “In practice, InterAction functions as a highly partisan advocate of the highly partisan foreign aid industrial complex.”
InterAction counts among its partners American Red Cross, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, ChildFund International, FHI 360, Oxfam America, and Save the Children, as well as evangelical NGOs such as Bethany Christian Services, Bread for the World, Feed the Children, Food for the Hungry, Habitat for Humanity, Holt International, and World Vision.
“Through its organizational priorities and recommendations to the Group of Seven major industrialized nations,” Meisburger argued in a separate piece for The Daily Signal, “InterAction explicitly promotes a universal ‘right’ to abortion and increased funding for ‘women’s rights and feminist organizations.’ In the United States, InterAction advocates for far-left immigration and asylum policies even more extreme than those promoted by the Biden administration.”
Meisburger’s criticisms provoked InterAction to respond. InterAction called Meisburger’s claims inaccurate and reaffirmed that it is “a nonpartisan nonprofit membership organization that is a convener and thought leader.” They appealed to their diverse membership roster and noted that “InterAction engages with both Republicans and Democrats.”
In the DEI compact, InterAction members “acknowledge the following DEI realities: Fundamentally, around the world, the experience of oppression and privilege is historically inherent in the power structures of society and replicated within our organizations.” Classifying society into “oppressor” and “oppressed” is a characteristic of Marxist thinking. The DEI statement proceeds to describe “gender nonconforming individuals” as victims, discuss “intersecting identities,” and define racism in terms of “systemic discrimination.” It also denounced “the enforcement of strict gender and relationship norms” causing “violence and exclusion” against “LGBTQIA+ individuals.”
Meisburger suggested the partisan skew of personnel in both PEPFAR’s implementing agencies and the top grant recipients could fracture the bipartisan support PEPFAR has received for the past 20 years.
“The realization that the U.S. foreign assistance apparatus is not bipartisan creates the increasing possibility that public support for assistance will also decline,” he warned policymakers. “It is unlikely that the taxpaying public will want to fund foreign aid if it [is] seen as a patronage-based employment program for Democrat Party activists promoting a partisan political and social agenda at home and abroad.”
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.