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?

When Bill Price entered a room full of politicians, his droopy eyes would light up, his blasé demeanor would turn commanding. The same thing happened when a TV camera started rolling or a reporter questioned his mission or his motives. Off camera, he spoke softly, measuring his words, but stick a microphone in front of him, and his aim was true. His gift, if you chose to call it that, was to agitate with style, to attack with self-righteous indignation, and he gave the anti-abortion movement in Texas its first clamorous voice to fight pro-choice advocates.

Yet as the spokesman of a movement replete with zealots and purists, he came across as a voice of moderation--reasonable, practical, and accessible. By convincing evangelical Christians to join the fray, he helped broaden the base of what had historically been a Catholic cause. He shunned violence in his own movement, castigating those who either openly or by their silence endorsed it. Accused of being a headline grabber, a scene stealer, a sound-bite hog (which made him a hell of a fund-raiser), he had a habit of publicly flogging politicians when they fudged on their "pro-life" convictions or just plain pissed him off. Whether you were for or against abortion rights, when he spoke, you listened. Often, you were afraid not to.

As he stood before the 900 guests at the Intercontinental Hotel in Dallas on October 2, Bill Price, at age 51, had much to celebrate. His organization, Texans United for Life (TUL), was commemorating its 25th anniversary. Price had been its executive director and president for the past 17 years. The Texas Legislature had recently passed a law requiring parents to be notified when their minor daughters sought abortions, handing his movement its biggest victory since Roe vs. Wade. Seated next to him on the dais were those who made it possible: Lt. Gov. Rick Perry and state Sens. Chris Harris and Florence Shapiro.

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.
During an abortion debate in the mid-'80s, Price outed Charlotte Taft, who ran the Routh Street Women's Clinic.
Mark Graham
During an abortion debate in the mid-'80s, Price outed Charlotte Taft, who ran the Routh Street Women's Clinic.
Price had difficulty lobbying the Texas Legislature for his movement until 1999 when lawmakers passed the parental notification bill. When Gov. George W. Bush signed the bill into law, he asked Price to attend the ceremony.
Peter Calvin
Price had difficulty lobbying the Texas Legislature for his movement until 1999 when lawmakers passed the parental notification bill. When Gov. George W. Bush signed the bill into law, he asked Price to attend the ceremony.
TUL board member Kyleen Wright was a Price devotee until allegations of financial improprieties were leveled against him.
TUL board member Kyleen Wright was a Price devotee until allegations of financial improprieties were leveled against him.
Price accuses Kyleen Wright, left, and Jill Jeffrey of leading a political coupe to remove him as executive director and president of TUL.
Price accuses Kyleen Wright, left, and Jill Jeffrey of leading a political coupe to remove him as executive director and president of TUL.

No matter that there was some dissension about Shapiro within Texans United for Life's board of directors--one or two purists who believed that an anti-abortion organization had no business honoring a woman who was arguably pro-choice. Price listened to the board members' complaints but had no intention of changing his plans. For too many years, he had preached to the choir. He wanted to reach the hearts and minds of those in the middle. A majority of his board supported his efforts--or so he thought.

It was no mistake that he had eliminated any reference to "life" as the theme of the banquet. Instead he called the event "Hope for Families," stressing a change in the direction of Texans United for Life away from confrontation and toward education. His fund-raising pitch made that point loud and clear: Teach teens that abstinence before marriage is the only effective method of birth control, and abortion rates plummet.

Although Price hoped to raise $200,000 by 2000 for these school programs, the response that evening was somewhat tepid. Rallying the troops around education seemed a stretch for those who would rather do battle with the forces of evil.

The evening closed with a surprise tribute to Price, who received a commemorative scrapbook. Among the many letters of appreciation from politicians, friends, and ministers was one from TUL board chairman Tom Brown.

"My life has been blessed by God," Brown wrote. "One of his greatest gifts to me was when he allowed me to meet you, and get to know and work with you for almost 20 years...You have been a visionary, inspirational leader, hard worker, and supportive friend...I look forward to working with you...for years to come."

Three months later, Brown led a board investigation into allegations that Price had abused alcohol, prescription drugs, and the trust of TUL by using his expense account to misappropriate funds. Whatever reservoir of goodwill he had accumulated with the board over the last 17 years didn't run deep. On February 16, Price resigned. Not only did the board unanimously accept his resignation, but each member agreed that the financial condition of TUL was so precarious that there was no choice but to close its doors.

Price denies he is guilty of any wrongdoing and claims a disgruntled employee and her best friend on the board overthrew him in a political coup. Both have now formed a new entity using TUL donor lists, assets, and programming. Price maintains that the board rushed to judgment against him, refusing to give him a hearing. How could the board dispatch him so hastily after 17 years of devotion to its cause? Had he so alienated its members that they would give more credence to the schemes of a vengeful few? Had ideological fissures steaming below the surface made it just a matter of time before the purists on his board undid the man in the middle? Or was Price so self-aggrandizing that he saw himself as the movement and its money as his own?

Price claims he has never had the opportunity to defend himself and desperately wants the full story told.

"Dallas is where my reputation was stolen," he says. "And it's the only place where I have some hope of getting it back."

hr style="size: 1px; width: 50%; text-align: center

Bill Price sees himself as a man of strong conviction, a trait he inherited from his father, he says. The Rev. Oliver Price was one of the last of the circuit-riding preachers, bringing the Bible to the backwoods of Oklahoma and Arkansas. Staunchly fundamentalist, Oliver preached at conservative, independent "Bible churches." So fervent was his belief in the sanctity of marriage that he refused to marry any woman who wasn't "sexually pure."

He didn't perform many weddings.

"My father drew the line in the sand all his life," Bill Price says. "I like to think I got that from him."

In 1963, Oliver, his wife, and their four children moved to Carrollton, where he had inherited a small radio and television ministry. Every Sunday morning for the next 30 years, Oliver would host "The Bible Says," a 15-minute segment on KRLD-Channel 4. A daily radio show by the same name ran in several markets.

Bill Price's social life centered on the small church his father pastored in Carrollton. In the insulated setting of a fundamentalist church, Price displayed an "innate leadership ability," his father recalls. "He seemed to gather others around him who wanted to follow."

Price knew as early as high school that he wanted to be a minister. "I had grown up in a preacher's home, and what I saw there just salted my oats," he says. "I enjoyed being able to get in front of a group and communicating things out of the Bible."

Price entered Dallas Bible College in 1966, taking the quickest route to a Bible church ministry, which he found at the age of 21, when he became the youth pastor at a large church in Colorado Springs. Price says he was thrust into controversy when he extended his ministry to a "hippie enclave in the mountains" and wore purple shirts as part of his Sunday best. The pastor had a different notion of inclusiveness, and when Price told him he could find nothing in the Scriptures against purple shirts, he knew his tenure was limited.

"I was wet behind the ears," Price says. "But one of the things that I learned about Christians is that they can fight just as mean and nasty as anyone else. Things can get ugly fast."

After only 13 months, he began to search for another ministry. Luckily, his aunt told him about a church in Odessa that was looking for a new pastor. It wasn't much of a church, just five families who met in someone's home. But that was enough incentive for Price to move back to Texas with his pregnant wife, Janet, in 1971. "People loved listening to Bill preach," says Dr. Jim Frejia, one of his former parishioners. "He could spend three hours on a single verse of Scripture." Nevertheless, the church grew in size, and Sunday services moved from a house to a Chevy dealership, then to its own building.

Most of his flock, says Price, wanted to come to church, hear a Bible sermon, and go home. Getting involved in social causes was theologically taboo, smacking of the kind of liberal Protestantism that evangelicals had broken away from 40 years before. Why bother trying to make the world a better place when the End of Days was just around the corner? "There was a cultural war going on," Price says. "And most evangelicals had chosen to sit it out."

But Price was transfixed by the writings of conservative theologian Dr. Frances Schaeffer, who urged Christians to get out of the pews and into the political arena. Schaeffer implored conservative Christians to join the fight against abortion and euthanasia. It wasn't until 1977 that Price started pounding the pulpit about abortion, espousing a biblical view that life begins at conception. Not content with just sermonizing about "saving the unborn," he formed the right-to-life organization out of his church office.

In 1979, Price learned that Planned Parenthood, which both supported and provided abortions, was receiving funds from United Way in Odessa. Naively he asked United Way officials to drop Planned Parenthood from their next fund-raising campaign. When they refused, he called a news conference to announce that Odessans for Life would be running a series of ads asking people to give to charities other than United Way. "I had no idea what I was doing," he says. "I read from a press release that was eight pages long."

The media covered the United Way campaign as if it were a sporting event. If the charity met its goal, pro-choice advocates won; if they didn't, chalk up a victory for abortion opponents. Although an Odessa businessman put United Way over the top by writing a $20,000 check in the waning days of the campaign, Price would never be the same.

"I loved the strategy, the media, the whole fracas," Price recalls. "Anyone could pastor a church. I felt a fire burning inside me. I had to get involved in the public debate."

hr style="size: 1px; width: 50%; text-align: center

On December 5, 1985, Price was asked to debate Charlotte Taft in front of a television audience on the Ed Busch Talk Show in Dallas. Taft was a formidable foe, the director of the Routh Street Women's Clinic and an outspoken advocate of a woman's right to choose. In 1983, Price had become director of the Dallas Right to Life Committee (which would become Texans United for Life in 1989), raising the profile of the organization and himself by taking to the streets and protesting abortion providers such as Taft nearly every weekend.

Often he would debate Taft, who gave better than she got, taking the legal high ground while Price took the moral one. "The debates were really quite stupid," recalls Taft, who now lives in New Mexico. "He would say all this bumper-sticker pro-life stuff, and I would say this bumper-sticker pro-choice stuff. All we did was validate what people already believed."

This particular debate started like the others: Price accused Taft of being a godless profiteer murdering innocent children. Taft chastised Price for imposing his religious beliefs on a woman's right to choose.

After 20 minutes of sparring, Price held a photograph in his hand. He claimed that Taft had suggested that men had no right to debate abortion because "they didn't go through childbirth."

"I challenge you to ever show me a time when I said that..." she demanded.

"...I have been reluctant to do that because I would be forced to reveal what I am going to reveal now. And that is, in fact, that you are a lesbian."

The audience booed. Price had outed Taft on television.

He grew flustered. "It's right here." He held up the photo. "Here is her picture as one of the six gay activist members of the Democratic National Platform Committee."

Taft was devastated. Price remained unapologetic. He had grown weary of her trying to disenfranchise him from the debate. What better way to level the playing field than to level the player?

"I regret having done that to her," Price admits. "I told Charlotte that years later."

But back then, Price was anything but apologetic when it came to trashing the other side or making a name for himself. Whereas other anti-abortion groups shunned the "liberal media" as a tool of the pro-choice movement, Price had enough savvy to know that conflict sold newspapers. "God gave me the sense to know that the media basically decides who the leader of a movement will be," Price says. "The media recognized my leadership."

Because Price worked for his father's radio and TV ministry when he returned to Dallas in 1981, he felt comfortable in front of the camera. He also began to volunteer his time at the Dallas Right to Life offices, an organization that had been founded in the early '70s by a volunteer group of Catholic women. Price became the first evangelical to join its board and says he begged the board to hire him as its first paid director. Immediately, he sought to get more evangelicals involved in the movement. His cause was aided nationally by televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who were also urging evangelicals to form a Christian coalition of conservatives.

Some of the old-line Catholics on the board believed Price's tactics were too confrontational, his motives too suspect. "He was more interested in promoting himself than the movement," says one former board member, who asked not to be named in this article. "He wanted everything right out on the streets, with him right out in front."

Price admits he alienated some of the Catholics on his board, who believed this was their fight and resented his attempts to build bridges to the Protestant evangelical community. He began to stack his board with evangelicals who loved his fights with Taft and her minions, his street protests, which though ugly and bullhorn-loud--"Hear the cries of the unborn, you wretched whores"--rarely crossed the line into civil disobedience.

"People accused me at times of grandstanding for my personal interest," Price says. "I know it looked that way, but people don't follow an organization, people follow a leader."

Price organized about 20 anti-abortion organizations around the state into the Texas Coalition for Life, a group--he told the media--consisting of 100,000 members. On March 7, 1986, Price, as leader of that coalition, held a news conference in Austin where he endorsed former U.S. Rep. Tom Loeffler for governor in the Republican primary over former Gov. Bill Clements.

To Paulette Standefer, one of the founding members of Dallas Right to Life, Price's endorsement of Loeffler was not only politically naive (Clements won), but a self-serving attempt to make himself a force within the emerging Religious Right.

Standefer (who refused to be interviewed for this article) spoke out against Price, and he immediately took steps to remove her from the board. "Paulette just wasn't ready to yield the organization," Price says. "Voting to remove her established me as the leader."

It also ripped the board in half, as six other members (most of them Catholic), resigned in protest. Price filled their seats with members more favorably disposed to his bold style of leadership (most of them evangelical).

In his letter of resignation, board member Richard Land expressed his fears about the board's increasing lack of oversight regarding Price: "I am dismayed by [Price's] lack of ongoing accountability to the board on policy, personnel, and budgetary matters. The board may wish to do it this way, but they should make a conscious decision...instead of sliding into it unconsciously."

Price was now free to direct his war without anyone looking over his shoulder. He could go to Austin and lobby the Legislature, go to the state Republican convention and play powerbroker, go to his office and write an op-ed piece attacking the more militant elements within his own movement. Price's new hand-picked board was more willing to let Bill be Bill.

hr style="size: 1px; width: 50%; text-align: center

Although the Texans United for Life had both a political and educational arm, Price's real passion was evident even to his enemies.

"He was a political junkie," says Phyllis Dunham, former executive director of the Texas Abortion Rights Action League. "You could just watch the man light up when the Legislature was in session. He seemed to live for those few months every two years."

But politics is the art of compromise, and he spoke for a group of ideological purists who saw anything short of an outright ban on abortion as a defeat. The line he walked--between political insider and moral crusader--was a fine one, particularly in a Democratic-controlled Legislature.

"Bill had this nasty habit of promising legislators that if they would just give him this one little thing, this time, he would leave them alone next session," Dunham says. "But he always came back for more."

In the '85 session, he led a successful fight to require that all abortion clinics meet minimum health standards. He was back in '87 asking for a ban on all late-term abortions. He signed off on a compromise piece of legislation with Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby that recognized exceptions to the ban when the mother's life was in danger and in certain cases of fetal abnormality. "Afterward he viciously attacked Hobby in his newsletter," says Peggy Romberg, the head of the Texas Family Planning Association, "calling him the No. 1 enemy of the pro-life movement."

Small wonder he had a tough time getting legislation passed in the next five sessions under the Democrats--no bill restricting abortions on minors, no laws banning state funds for Planned Parenthood. "We did a lot of lobbying," Price says. "But with either Bill Hobby or Bob Bullock, who were ardently pro-choice, we didn't get anywhere."

It didn't help his cause that he lacked the standard lobbying tools of money (to help fund an election) or a voting bloc (to help win an election). "Because he spoke so loudly, so consistently, and so tenaciously, he was rather masterful at giving the impression of having a much larger movement than there really was," Dunham says. Price admits that Texans United for Life never had more than 5,000 members. But reporters would list its membership at 100,000, and he did little to correct them.

He was also masterful at keeping his issue and his face in the media. "You had to deal with him if you were a legislator, or he would go to the press," Romberg says. "And the press liked him because he was very good at giving them something pissy at a moment's notice."

If a politician hesitated on the abortion issue, remained silent, or reversed himself, Price attacked. In 1992, he slammed state Comptroller John Sharp, a Catholic who once said that he would go to hell if he changed his mind on abortion. When Sharp began to express pro-choice inclinations, Price told the Houston Chronicle, "I guess John Sharp has decided to go to hell."

But these skirmishes paled in comparison with the civil war Price started in the state Republican Party over the seating of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison as a delegate to the '96 Republican National Convention.

That war had its roots in the movement of social conservatives into the ranks of the state Republican Party hierarchy. That process began during the Reagan years as the Religious Right ousted country-club Republicans, beating them at a grassroots level, precinct by precinct. Groups like the Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum, and Texans United for Life turned the Republican platform into their manifesto, and by 1994, their denizens dominated the party machinery. The abortion issue was the glue that held them together and the question wasn't if you were pro-life, but how pro-life were you? A one-exception politician (life of the mother) was certainly preferable to a three-exception one (mother's life, rape, and incest). And someone like Hutchison, who had a fleeting history of voting pro-choice, was anathema to people like Bill Price.

Price says that prior to the 1996 state GOP convention, he and the other anti-abortion leaders in the state made a deal: No one--not even a U.S. senator--would become a delegate to the national convention unless their pro-life bona fides were beyond reproach. "I knew I was taking on the entire party establishment, Phil Gramm, Hutchison, even the other pro-life groups abandoned me," he says. "But I had to draw that line in the sand."

The only group that didn't abandon him was the media, and he made the most of it as a trail of reporters and cameramen dogged him daily on the convention floor. Gramm branded him a "bully" and a "blowhard." Although Hutchison would gain a delegate slot, Price says he made his point. "I wanted to make Hutchison radioactive so Bob Dole wouldn't consider her for a running mate."

Others, even within his movement, believed Price was just staging the media event as a fund-raising tool, something he had a habit of doing. Days after the Hutchison showdown, TUL sent out a fund-raising letter, asking for money to send Price to the national convention to seal the fate of Hutchison, as if he were the only true defender of the faith.

Oddly, Price didn't sound like such a purist when it came to the position he staked out for himself within his own movement. By 1988, Operation Rescue had begun to engage in civil disobedience, grabbing headlines as their volunteer zealots blocked the entrances to abortion clinics and were arrested for trespassing and vandalism. Price came out hard and often against Operation Rescue, publicly condemning their tactics as a slippery slope toward violence.

By 1993, radical elements within the anti-abortion movement grew increasingly frustrated. Blockades of clinics led to arson; harassment of abortionists led to murder. Price's press releases grew bolder. He accused even mainstream anti-abortion opponents of willful silence and demanded they condemn the violence openly. Four members of Price's own board were sympathetic to Operation Rescue, but Price rarely consulted his board when he took a position.

"I determined it was a total abdication of leadership to take my hands off the steering wheel and let a radical fringe drive the bus," Price says. "Only I couldn't get anybody to come on board with me."

Until Price spoke out, the anti-abortion movement had always been a paragon of unity; one pro-life leader criticizing another was considered an act of heresy. Price became the target not only of Operation Rescue, but of other anti-abortion leaders who labeled him a traitor, a cancerous "white cell" attacking the body of the movement. At the state GOP convention in Fort Worth in 1994, wanted posters bearing his photo hung from the rafters branding him an enemy of the pro-life movement.

Price was celebrated in the media as a voice of reason within a movement that could excuse the killing of abortion doctors as justifiable homicide. Although some anti-abortion groups accused him of using Operation Rescue as a fund-raising ploy, Price says he lost more donors over the issue than he gained. But the movement was failing legislatively, and he kept to his new, more moderate position, moving away from hardball tactics. "I saw politicians distancing themselves from us. Violence was hardening many Americans against the pro-life message," he says. "I wanted to put a kindlier, gentler face on the pro-life movement."

Price believed that attempting to ban abortions outright was futile, but chipping away at it with legislation that restricted the procedure was within reach.

In June 1997, Gov. George W. Bush invited 15 to 20 anti-abortion leaders from around the state to Austin. Bush advisor Karl Rove asked them what kind of pro-life bill--parental notification or parental consent--they would support. Price insisted they go for less restrictive notification. Other movement leaders were livid. "Why did he want to compromise before we even filed the bill?" asks one leader who attended the meeting. "You should always ask for more and then settle for less."

But Price was tired of going for broke and getting nothing. Better to aim for the middle. He'd spent a career trying to get some kind of bill restricting teenage abortions through the Legislature. Only now did he have a Republican governor who needed some pro-life credentials to run for president and a pro-life lieutenant governor in Rick Perry. So what if he had to ride roughshod over some of the purists in his movement? It wouldn't be the first time.

What he hadn't counted on was that it might be his last.

hr style="size: 1px; width: 50%; text-align: center

By last January, the years of warfare had taken an emotional toll on Bill Price. Even his father thought he was having a mid-life crisis: He seemed tired and burnt out, and he was talking about resigning. His wife, Janet, had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995, and he was spending more time working from home than in the office. TUL board chairman Tom Brown persuaded him to take a sabbatical to rekindle his spirit.

Price had every confidence in his office manager, Jill Jeffrey, who had been working for TUL even longer than he had. Jeffrey (who did not return the Dallas Observer's phone calls) appeared devoted to Price, demanding loyalty oaths from the other TUL employees. With Price's acquiescence, she set herself up as his gatekeeper, freeing him from the minutiae of day-to-day operations, isolating him from the rest of his staff so he could focus on big-picture problems. Her "grandmotherly gingerbread" demeanor would endear her to some employees, but several found her Machiavellian in her management style. For minor infractions such as tardiness or not smiling at Price, she had Carol and Luke Tullar--a married couple who worked at TUL for nine years--write essays of forgiveness.

"We thought she was speaking for Bill," says Luke Tullar. "She would use his name as a talisman, saying 'Bill and I think,' 'Bill says.' But it was just her way of invoking power." Carol and Luke agreed to daily infraction meetings where Luke would first meet with Jeffrey, who would inform him of what office wrongs his wife had allegedly perpetrated. Luke would then meet with Carol and relate these perceived infractions to his wife, trying to persuade her to do better and submit totally to Jeffrey's authority. "Jill nearly caused the end of my marriage," Carol says. "You see the good in her. But then you see the blackness."

Kyleen Wright, a TUL board member and Price devotee, only saw the good. "Jill was integral to the organization and a very kind person," Wright says. "There was a lot of good cop-bad cop going on with the staff, and Jill was the bad cop."

In early 1999 Jeffrey began telling Wright that Price was not himself, that he had been too focused on his wife's illness and absent from the office too often. With the legislative session in full swing and parental notification on the agenda, Price wasn't spending much time in Austin either.

Price took a brief vacation in Odessa, trying to relax at the home of friend and former board member Jim Frejia. While Price was there, Frejia received a call from Jeffrey. "She told me the organization was going to hell. She accused Price of not coming to work, of not caring about the job, of drinking entirely too much," recalls Frejia, who says he took notes. "She is so convincing, she had me questioning the veracity of one of my closest friends."

But what possible reason could she have to go against the man she revered? "It was a preventative strike," Frejia says. "She sensed she was getting fired, and she was laying the groundwork of her defense." Kyleen Wright saw it differently: "Jill began noticing that spending was up and income was down. She said things very gently to Bill about his spending, and I believe that was a factor in her firing."

Price claims there were no discussions about expenses when he fired Jeffrey on January 20. He had discharged her three times in the past, but had always taken her back. This time he was determined not to recant. Price says he spoke with Carol Tullar in December and learned for the first time about "the reign of terror that Jill engaged in regarding Carol and her husband." He decided he had been too hands-off with his staff and wanted to reinvolve himself. Jeffrey saw this as a threat to her authority, he says, and was "very, very angry about it," particularly when he started meeting with employees without her being present. This time, when he told her things were not working out, there were no tears, no plea to let her return. She left, he says, without saying much of anything.

Five days after the firing, Price was invited to what he supposed was a friendly lunch with three board members: Tom Brown, J.D. McCaslin, and Rob Farrell (none of whom would return the Observer's phone calls). The banter during lunch was light, chatty, recalls Price, until McCaslin spoke up. "We need you to be totally honest and don't withhold anything; it will only hinder our ability to help you." He sounded nervous. "Some serious allegations have been made against you."

Price remembers saying, "If some allegations have been made against me, I know who made them. It was Jill." Price tried to tell them that he had fired her a few days before.

But they knew all that. Jeffrey herself was a board member, and she had contacted Kyleen Wright and the other board members. She obviously had their confidence, not to mention some damaging financial records.

"Do you have problems with alcohol?" one of them asked. "Are you abusing prescription drugs?"

Price answered no, absolutely not, to both questions.

"Do you have a history of mental illness?"

Price grew indignant: A vindictive employee was making these claims, he says, and he wanted to know why they were giving them serious consideration. He had been their leader for 17 years.

It was time to go, they said: An emergency board meeting had been called for 2 p.m. at the TUL offices in Addison. Price would not be allowed in the meeting while the charges were presented against him.

Nearly three hours later, Price was asked to appear before the board. Tom Brown led the meeting, and Price was told that the only allegation remaining against him concerned the legitimacy of expense-account charges he had made on the TUL credit card.

"I looked at them and said, 'Which one of you is going to give me back my reputation when you are through with this?'" he recalls. "But they just sat there in silence."

Price says he told them that he would answer the allegations but that he wanted an opportunity to review all the financial records. They agreed. Over the next several days, he became outraged when he learned that four boxes of financial records had been removed from his office. Regrettably for him, outrage wasn't the emotion the board was looking for.

"Income was down and his expense account grew, and that was a deadly combination for the organization," Wright says. "It was important that this be an unbiased investigation, and Bill was not cooperative in the gathering of data, which did not help his case."

Price admits that TUL faced a $40,000 deficit at the end of 1999, but he attributes this more to his emphasis on abstinence education and its increasing cost rather than his own spending habits. "It's photos of doctors with scissors doing partial-birth abortions that gets donors to give. Abstinence education just didn't sell well."

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."

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.

hr style="size: 1px; width: 50%; text-align: center

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."

On April 20, the TUL board sent out its own letter, announcing that after 25 years, the organization was closing its doors for two primary reasons: "The operating budget is depleted," and Price's use of TUL funds for personal expenses has resulted in his resignation. TUL educational programming would be continued by a group including Kyleen Wright and Jill Jeffrey, operating under the name Texans for Life Coalition. On April 27, The Dallas Morning News ran a front-page story under the headline: "Prominent anti-abortion group closes: Ex-president denies he misused money."

Price saw this article as punishment: "Why would the board reject offers of mediation? That's not what they wanted. They wanted a front-page story that would have a headline about misusing funds. It was pure ambition and revenge from two people who wanted to ruin me and nail the organization shut."

Not true, Wright says. "We were in a crisis mode trying to save our organization. Bill was not in a position to offer that leadership. That was something that could not be mediated."

Questions of betrayal aside, Price says he is ready to move on. He says he knows he can't build anything on "the ground of bitterness and anger," but he still has the same fire for the movement, which he believes, more than ever, is aligned with his own moderate views.

Although a no-compete clause in his separation agreement prevents him from forming a new organization until September, he has begun the process of recruiting a new board of like-minded people.

"I grew up watching things start from scratch," he says. "I may have a steeper hill to climb this time, but I am tanned, and I am rested, and I am ready."

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...