A feisty anti-abortion group learned a painful lesson in practical politics yesterday: don't take your friends for granted, especially if they are members of that mutual protection society called the U.S. Congress.
Until yesterday the Natinal ProLife Political Action Committee claimed a prestigious advisory committee that included 10 members of Congress, many of them superstars in the anti-abortion movement. The senators and representatives gave the organization political clout and credibilty.
The group made two big mistakes: first, it decided to issue a "hit" list of four senators and five representatives that in intends to spend $400,000 in 1982 trying to defeat. This was bad enough in a place like Congress, which has grown leery of such lists, both from the left and right.
Then the group compounded the problem by not telling the members of Congress what it was up to, which violated one of the politician's cardinal rules: whatever you do, don't surprise me.
Within hours, four hopping mad members of the advisory committee resigned. Among them were Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), the best known anti-abortion spokesman in the House, and Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah), a principal sponsor of a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortions.
"Members of a group's advisory board should be asked to advise, and since I was not I intend to resign," said Garn. And a Hyde spokesman said, "Congressman Hyde thinks it is inappropriate for him to lend his name to a group that seeks to defeat Republican members of Congress whose views may differ with his on some issues."
Reps. Marty Russo (D-Ill.) and Robert A. Young (D-Mo.) expressed similar feelings. Both said they didn't want to be associated with any "negative campaigns."
"I'm not in any way going to participate in anything that is set up to defeat sitting members," Russo said.
Several of the six remaining senators and representatives on the advisory board were equally angry. Rep Ron. Paul (R-Tex.) "wasn't even aware he was on the advisory board, although his name was include on an organization letterhead," said a spokesman. Rep. Thomas N. Kindness (R-Ohio) said he had all but forgotten about the board "until they decided to do something dumb like this."
The NPLPAC hardly knew what hit it. "I'm a little surprised all this happened so quickly," said executive director Peter B. Gemma Jr. "It's just a communication problem that got out of hand."
The group, he said, isn't going to change its plans. If necessary, Gemma said, "I'll go out and get the names of 10 more congressmen."
The nine legislators targeted as "early opportunities for pro-life victories" in 1982 included six Democrats and three Republicans, all of whom have refused to endorse a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. Some, however, have frequently cast anti-abortion votes.
Democrats listed were Sen. George Mitchell of Maine, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, Sen. Harrison A. William Jr. of New Jersey, House Budget Committee Chairman James R. Jones of Oklahoma, Rep. Stephen L. Neal of North Carolina and House Interior Committee Chairman Morris K. Udall of Arizona. Reminded that Moynihan is an advocat of tutition tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools, a spokesman responded: "I will not barter babies for books."
Republicans listed were Sen. John H. Chafee of Rhode Island, Rep. Marc Lincoln Marks of Pennsylvania and Rep. Paul Findley of Illinois.
Jones, Marks and Mitchell have frequently cast votes against federal funding of abortion, one litmus test of the anti-abortion movement. But Gemma said they were picked because they all can be beaten in 1982 and they have not endorsed the anti-abortion amendment.
The NPLPAC said Mitchell had cast votes with anti-abortion forces in four of the five votes that have come up since he was appointed to the Senate. "I don't know what logic, or illogic, led to them putting me on their list," Mitchell said in an interview.
The Rev. Charles Fiore, chairman of the committee, said he doesn't care what each individual legislator thinks about abortion "in his heart of hearts" as long as they support a constitutional amendment. "We don't care if they see the light asd long as they feel the heat," he told a news conference.