Andy Kopsa

Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality

Your tax dollars at work: Iowa Family Policy Center’s $3 million in federal grants

Between 2004 and 2009 the openly anti-gay, politically active, Christian based, Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC) received over $3 million in federal grants through the Administration for Children and Families’ Compassion Capital fund and Healthy Marriage Demonstration fund, subsidiaries of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

As to why this is significant, a little background on the Iowa Family Policy Center may be helpful.

The IFPC is the leading voice of opposition to the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling overturning the ban on same-sex marriage in April 2009. They advocate an anti-gay marriage amendment be added to the Iowa Constitution (think: California Prop8) through their LUV Iowa (Let Us Vote) initiative.  They promote overcoming homosexuality through the Exodus International program.  Exodus proclaims “You don’t have to be gay!”  and provides a path out of gayness through Jesus Christ.  The IFPC also touts “The Truth Project” brought to you by Focus On The Family evangelizing a purely Christian world view.

Their speech and opinions, although free and protected (and rightly so), is viewed by many as divisive and discriminatory to say the least. The following statements can all be found on the IFPC Blog:

“Supporters of homosexuality have announced their intentions to celebrate a culture that promotes sin, and public officials who no longer understand their responsibility to punish wicked behavior. One group will celebrate personal choices that lead to eternal death, and the other will celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who offers eternal life.”

“Ultimately, every society that openly approves of homosexual behavior has perished shortly thereafter. Such behavior is inherently deadly, at all levels: individually, societally and especially spiritually.” (From IFPCblog post)

Bryan English, the Director of Communications for the IFPC told me recently in a phone conversation:

About same-sex marriage:  “This isn’t a civil rights issue it [homosexuality] is a choice in behavior and as a Christian organization we don’t believe this is a right, it is a sin against Jesus Christ.” Summarizing his thoughts, Bryan offers, “Their [gays] behavior first and foremost is inherently sinful,” and,  “Promoting gay behavior, teens will choose that lifestyle, make poor choices and become more susceptible to STDs.”

This from IFPC’s President, Chuck Hurley, regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage:

“Because of their unwillingness to correct the error of last April’s Iowa Supreme Court opinion, the Iowa Legislature is responsible for sanctioning activities that will lead to dramatically higher rates of HIV and syphilis in Iowa.”

The above image is from a March 24, 2010 post “What’s Worse?  Smoking or Sodomy?”  Many people will recognize the openly gay US Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass) as the subject of this photo.  And although it is common knowledge that Mr. Frank is a homosexual, I was unable to confirm whether or not he is indeed a smoker with poorly manicured nails.

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The Office of Faith Based Initiatives, initially enacted by President George W. Bush and  reconstituted as the The Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships under President Obama, does not provide a funding stream.  What they do offer is explained in part here, from the White House website:

The White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will be a resource for nonprofits and community organizations, both secular and faith based, looking for ways to make a bigger impact in their communities, learn their obligations under the law, cut through red tape, and make the most of what the federal government has to offer.

The Iowa Family Policy Center benefited greatly from opportunities provided by the Faith Based Initiative.  In 2004 and 2005 the IFPC received $850,000 from the Compassion Capital Fund.  And from 2006 – 2009 they received $2.2 million through the US Healthy Marriage Demonstration.  The Healthy Marriage Grant runs through 2011 so they can bank on another $1.1 million of federal money being added to their coffers.

The Iowa Family Policy Center’s 2007 tax return claims $558,337 of their $1.1 million revenue came from federal grants. According to a representative at the Administration of Children and Families (ACF), this money must be passed from the IFPC to a third-party to execute Healthy Marriage Demonstration – the name under which the grants were awarded to IFPC –  as part of the government’s Healthy Marriage Program. (The Healthy Marriage Program is housed under the umbrella of the ACF, which in turn is under the purview of the US Department of Health and Human Services.  It is like an ill-fitting set of Governmental Russian nesting dolls – but that is the system.)

Des Moines resident and blogger, Erich Riesenberg first reported the $3 million in grants on his blog www.chuckhurls.com (named in a sort of homage to the Iowa Family Policy Center’s President, Chuck Hurley).  I contacted Erich to chat about what he had found.  I wanted to know what motivated him to begin looking into the IFPC’s financial records in the first place.

Erich told me, “I used to work for non-profits and am familiar with how they work.  Knowing that they [the IFPC] are a non profit organization that in my opinion seems like a hate group, I wanted to check them out.”

In real life, Erich works in finance and he shared with me concerns about IFPC’s 2007 tax fillings.  According to Riesenberg, Part III of tax forms used by non profits is where program details are laid out: the who, what, when and where of why they qualify for federal dollars. Erich points out the only description that the Iowa Family Policy Center has provided for the last three years is this: Strengthen Iowa Families by presenting a traditional foundation of principles and values for the well being of our society in the public policy arena.

This is a broad stroke statement.  Personally, I would like to see a little more detail in what they are spending my money on.  And that is what Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are for.

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Dr. Mike Hartwig is the Vice President of the Iowa Family Policy Center for which he receives an annual salary of $78,098.  (Salaried employees in 501(c)3 organizations are necessary to the functioning of the entity.) Dr. Hartwig also serves as the Program Director for IFPC’s Marriage Matters program, the program that is supposed* to be the recipient of the IFPC grants.

Mike Hartwig, billed on the Marriage Matters website as the “PoohBah of Marriage” once waxed ridiculous about the threat of same-sex marriage legal language to “real” marriage suggesting it could lead to my taking Spongebob Squarepants as my husband:

Redefining marriage is wrong. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman becoming husband and wife to form a new family. That’s what is best for the culture. Traditional marriage has worked since the dawn of civilization and it will continue to work till the end of time if we only let it……Could [this] effort to eliminate obvious human characteristics from Iowa law lead to marriage between a human and a cartoon?

Mike Hartwig, Chuck Hurley, Bryan English, Marriage Matters, The Iowa Family Policy Center and the IFPC Action PAC (a 501(c)4) all share space at 1100 N. Hickory Boulevard in Pleasant Hill, Iowa.  Marriage Matters phone number is IFPC’s phone number. Perhaps they share the light bill or the sanitation expenses?  Presumably, they use the same copier, office supplies, postage and clearly, some of the same staff.

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I spoke with a program director at the US Department of Health and Human Services who was familiar with the Iowa Family Policy Center.  He told me Healthy Marriage grants are to pass through the intermediary organization (IFPC) to the Healthy Marriage Program contractor (Marriage Matters) but, did admit that certain overlap in spending may occur between the grantee and contractor programs, although not technically allowed.    (The IFPC’s tax returns do not list it’s subcontractors or grantees.  In order to get that information another FOIA request would be required.)

The grants are meant to build capacity, conduct training of staff and board of directors but may not be used in the direct administration of service.  Meaning that Marriage Matters can use the money to train staff and volunteers as marriage mentors, but cannot pay the expenses to host a weekend mentoring retreat for couples or for any other direct service expenditures.  The director also told me from every indication the IFPC met all the requirements on the front end for securing the grant.

We then started talking about oversight of use of federal funds, once the money has been released to the grantees.  The DHS director told me that the awarding agency is responsible for oversight but they do rely on citizens reporting suspected abuse to begin an investigation. (The office of Inspector General at the federal level and Attorney General at the state level.)

I brought up the cross over of office space, phone numbers and IFPC’s Vice President Dr. Hartwig acting as the Project Director.  The DHS director laughed a bit and said he was going to assume that the Iowa Family Policy Center and Marriage Matters kept separate books and bank accounts.  In his candor he suggested they (or any grantees entity) would be idiots if they didn’t.  I told him that if the IFPC and Marriage Matters mingled their books and funds, I wouldn’t blame idiocy, I would chalk it up to hubris.

I attempted to do a search for Marriage Matters tax returns.  It turns out that Marriage Matters is only a registered trademark of the Iowa Family Policy Center, not a separate entity.  There are no articles of incorporation listed with Iowa Secretary of State.  (I called the Secretary of State’s office to find out if there was another search I could be missing. I was told if an entity is incorporated it would be on their site).

In an attempt to clarify the relationship between IFPC, Marriage Matters, the status of Marriage Matters as a separate entity, and the allocation of the $3 million plus in federal funding, I put a call out to Bryan English at the IFPC.  Mr. English has not returned my call at the time of this writing.

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The assumption must be that the Iowa Family Policy Center is acting in accordance  with the rules and regulations governing the use of their federal grants.  I have no concrete evidence to the contrary.  What I do have are a handful of government agencies scratching their heads wondering if, according to April at the Compassion Capital Fund (CCF), I have “really valid concerns” when it comes to the Iowa Family Policy Center’s transparency.

Beyond questions of impropriety, is it prudent to hand over $3 million to an organization that is clearly biased, admittedly anti-gay and based in an immovable religious ideology  that is exclusionary in nature?  Is an organization that views what is legal under the Constitution of Iowa – same-sex marriage – as an abomination to God an entity that should be given $3 million to demonstrate “Healthy Marriage?”  Can IFPC  separate their form of Christianity from the federally required no proselytizing provision in the execution of public services?

And what of the rights of potential beneficiaries of programs receiving federal funding?  If a same-sex couple legally married and living in Iowa sought to participate in the Iowa Family Policy Center’s/Marriage Matters mentoring program, would they be denied access based on their sexual orientation?  The answer to that question may unfortunately be yes.

Recipients of federal funds are bound by the 1964 Civil Rights act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Therefore, they cannot discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion or disability.  Sexual orientation is not currently part of any federal civil rights language.  And although the Iowa Supreme Court established a same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, whether or not a gay couple can participate in the federally funded Marriage Matters program would be another  matter for the courts to decide.

(Note:  in a brief conversation with a senior attorney at the ACLU, Brigitte Amiri told me the Iowa civil rights laws could also be applicable.  In Iowa, sexual orientation is protected under Iowa Code.)

You really owe it to yourself to read these sources, links further reading:

  • ACF Map of grantees through 2011(Including fund amount and time period of funding)
  • * This from the Marriage Matters website as required by all entities receiving gov’t grants:  Funding for this project was provided by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Grant:    90FE0126/01. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect  the views of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.
  • Administration for Children and Families website
  • Iowa Family Policy Center
  • Marriage Matters website
  • White House office of Faith Based Partnerships
  • The three Iowa grantees listed on the National Healthy Marriage website:  http://www.healthymarriageinfo.org/programs/iowa.cfm  It is worth taking a look and comparing the programs that are funded.  One program – the Hawkeye Area CommunityAction Program addressing poverty and marriage, the second, the Healthy Marriage Education and Enrichment Program for Native American Families – serving the Native American Community  and the third is the IFPC.  The program for Native American Family receives only half of what the IFPC is granted.
  • Search Government Grantees here:  Tracking Accountability in Government Grants search engine
  • Information on the no proselytizing provision for federal grant recipients HERE
  • FBO Case of interest: “The Silver Ring Thing” in which a FBO federal grant recipient used federal funds to proselytize in direct public service and subsequently lost their funding.

5 comments on “Your tax dollars at work: Iowa Family Policy Center’s $3 million in federal grants

  1. Pingback: ChuckHurls.com » Blog Archive » News Article on Federal Funding of the IFPC

  2. Pingback: Updates and goings on about my desk « Lettuce Spray

  3. Jonathan
    November 8, 2010

    Thanks for writing this post. After the Iowa three judges lost the retainment vote, I started looking into the IFPC. Your post was very helpful. I called the HHS grant manager to ask what information is available. Have you FOIA’d them?

    Regarding the question of a same-sex couple being barred from mentoring, according to the HHS web site, healthy marriage grants may not be used for same-sex couples because of DOMA. So if a church that marries everybody receives a grant, they would have to keep two sets of books to prove that the inclusive bits of the marriage mentoring training and material were paid for by a separate funding stream (no threat to religious liberty?).

    I think it would be ok to spend grant funds to train the same-sex couple since it’s difficult to prove that same-sex couple are incapable of mentoring other couples. Maybe it’s time to start a business, “queer marrieds mentor fundies”.

    • akopsa
      November 17, 2010

      Hi Jonathan – thanks for your comment – I have FOIA’ed them yes and with inconclusive results. There are IFPC-like organizations in every state. Good luck in your research, please let me know if I can help in any way! Ak

  4. Heather
    August 28, 2011

    So I just have one question in which u can probably help me. As a supporter of gay marriage my tax dollars went to their campaign. I guess my question is is there going to b an investigation? Is there a chance they will have to pay this money back?

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