Sins of a Preacher Man

Until his overthrow, Bill Price led the Texas anti-abortion movement for 17 years. Was it politics, ego, or something worse that did him in?

Brown did give Price a partial list of disputed credit-card charges that had accrued since late 1998. On its face, it showed a damning pattern of credit-card excess: Price using his TUL credit card to pay for hundreds of "business meals," sometimes as many as three in the same day; Price using the card to pay for transportation and auto-repair expenses on each of his automobiles; Price using TUL money to pay for the medical bills of his wife and five children.

But Price claims that what the board had allowed him in expenses had not significantly changed since he first became TUL president. He cites a 1986 board resolution that authorized TUL to lease a car for him and pay "all transportation expenses." Price says he interpreted the spirit of this resolution to include all cars he might own. In 1996, the board, concerned with his wife's illness, agreed to pay up to $2,500 worth of medical bills, an amount equal to the deductible under Price's medical-insurance plan. Price claims he interpreted this to mean that he was also entitled to charge up to $2,500 of medical bills both for himself and each of his five children. If the board had any problems with that, says Price, there were financial reports prepared by an accountant that were available at every board meeting.

"I asked the accountant about the expenses," Wright says. "I said, 'Are you trying to tell me that lunch at Arby's is a client conference? How many clients go to Arby's to eat lunch?' That was my first question before she resigned."

Peter Calvin
Bill Price says that 17 years of devotion to the anti-abortion cause meant nothing when the Texans United for Life board investigated him for misusing his expense account.
Peter Calvin
Bill Price says that 17 years of devotion to the anti-abortion cause meant nothing when the Texans United for Life board investigated him for misusing his expense account.

By late January, Brown moved into Jeffrey's former office and took over the management of TUL operations. In a letter dated February 2, Brown told Price that because of the current TUL financial crisis, Price was required to dedicate all his time and effort to raising $200,000 by May 1. All checks were to be signed by Brown; Price's credit cards were forfeited. And Brown insisted that Price turn over all records or receipts concerning the business purpose of his past credit-card charges.

Instead of providing that detail, on February 3, Price lambasted the board both in person and by memo. He said that his records had been stolen and tampered with by his two accusers (Jeffrey and Wright); that he had been "denied due process" by the board's vague accusations against him; that his new "job conditions would turn him into a bread salesman rather than the creative thinker that he is."

Price then asked the board to let an independent "Christian mediator" resolve the issues between them, agreeing to be bound by whatever the mediator decided. Price claimed that over the last five years, he was entitled to approximately $75,000 in automatic raises and bonuses that he never took. Certainly, if he had gone too far with his expense account, he was still entitled to offset those raises. But he wanted an unbiased mediator to decide that issue.

If Price had angered the ideologues on his board with his moderate positions, they now had the cover of a pragmatic reason to safely attack him. In less than three weeks, Price went from saint to sinner. His board was committed to a new cause: to rid themselves of Bill Price. "It was a deep betrayal," Wright says, "and not something we could allow for the sake of our movement and our donors. We had to have more accountability than that."

Price now realized he had lost the board's faith, and he asked his father to intercede on his behalf. On February 15, both Oliver and Bill Price met with McCaslin and Farrell, again offering to mediate the credit-card debt. "They said they didn't consider the credit-card charges significant," Oliver recalls. "They wanted Bill to decide whether he wanted to resign or not. Either way, they wanted him to come to the board meeting the next night and show a spirit of repentance and humility. They said that would settle the whole issue about the charges."

The next night, Bill Price appeared at the board meeting and tendered his resignation. In the spirit of healing, he asked for forgiveness from all the directors--including Jill Jeffrey and Kyleen Wright.

He doubts he received it.

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Whether out of guilt or fear, truth or consequences, Price signed a separation agreement, admitting he had used $10,000 of TUL funds for personal expenses without the board's authorization. Though the board believed Price owed a considerable amount more, it had no way of figuring out how much without Price's cooperation. So it settled on an arbitrary sum. On March 6, in front of Tom Brown and J.D. McCaslin, Price signed the agreement binding him to pay $10,000 in restitution. "There were threats," Price says. "And I just wanted to get the whole thing behind me."

But that's not what happened. On April 3, Price sent out a fund-raising letter, informing some friends and TUL donors that after 17 years "fighting for babies," he had decided to resign in mid-February. "I need some time like a soldier in combat to step back from the fray." With no pension or IRA, no severance, he made "a soft appeal for funds," Price says. "But it was totally within what was allowed by the separation agreement."

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