Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
The culture of legislating morality runs deep in Indiana.
The influence of evangelical Christian ideology on Indiana politics can be gauged by the scores of lawmakers who lined up to support efforts such as limiting the state’s definition of marriage to heterosexual terms and defunding Planned Parenthood.
The Indiana Family Institute, described on its website as “a 16-year-old non-partisan, public education and research organization” supported both the aforementioned pieces of legislation. The state supports IFI, as well, with a federal Medicaid waiver grant aimed at increasing paid child support obligations through a Healthy Marriage Demonstration Project.
Though it pitches itself as non-partisan, IFI’s other core project involves running the Hoosier Congressional Policy Leadership Institute meant to “inform citizens of pro-family, pro-life and pro-marriage policy and issues.”
The IFI website counts as a legislative victory passage of HJR 6, which seeks to have Hoosiers vote on whether to amend the state constitution to define marriage as an institution between a man and a woman. And at a $75-per-plate fundraising dinner last year in Carmel, IFI honored Gov. Mitch Daniels for signing the defunding of Planned Parenthood bill, which it celebrated as “the nation’s strongest pro-life bill and the strongest in our state’s history.”
Questions remain unanswered about whether IFI is capable of setting aside its political and moralistic underpinnings as it engages in a $1.5 million collaboration with the Department of Child Services to promote “healthy marriage.”
In the face of multiple requests for information, the state has been unable to produce any evidence that oversight and accountability measures are in place and functioning. Multiple calls and emails to the Indiana Family Institute remain unreturned.
The story that can be pieced together through public documents serves to illustrate the depth of connection between IFI and Indiana politicians at the state and federal level, as well as highlight the potential for ethics violations and need for greater government transparency.
Starting with Sue
During last year’s battle to defund Planned Parenthood, Sue Swayze was all over the media. As Indiana Right To Life’s legislative director, Swayze was the public face of the Planned Parenthood defunding efforts.
Swayze told NPR last year that Planned Parenthood’s “corporate brand is the face of abortion … their mission,” leveraging the well-known anti-abortion meme that the women’s healthcare provider pushed abortion to turn a profit.Conceding that a federal law bars public funds from paying for abortion, Swayze still maintained in that same NPR interview that taxpayer support of Planned Parenthood was “unacceptable.”
Public records show that, in addition to her lobbyist roles, Swayze is a regular contributor to a political action committee involved in lobbying for Planed Parenthood defunding and a hetero-centric definition of marriage.
For Swayze, it isn’t her master’s degree, being a former Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce vice president nor her role as the Christian Chamber of Commerce executive director that is most important in her work at IFI. According to her IFI online bio, being “daughter of theLord Jesus Christ” is her most important credential, which shapes how she “approaches the political arena,” which she calls the “mission field” for her Christian faith.The two areas for Swayze’s — as well as the IFI’s — public mission work are specifically marriage and “life” issues.
Right-to-life issues, to be sure, are front and center for Swayze, but also relationship work through her role as IFI’s program director in charge of implementing the DCS Healthy Marriage Demonstration Project. IFI calls its DCS project “Hoosier Commitment/Parents TWOgether for Indiana Families.”
The goal of the DCS project , according to the grant agreement is to “test new strategies to strengthen the Child Support Enforcement program …The primary services to be tested are designed to achieve these ends by promoting healthy marriage and healthy parental relationships.”
The project is designed to serve 1,872 couples and parents in Marion County and about 200 more in Hamilton County over a five-year period ending in 2013.
The state is required to submit progress reports semi-quarterly and at the end of the project.
These reports are to “detail the major activities and accomplishments of the period covered … the status of achievement of project goals and objectives, data regarding the number and characteristics of participants recruited and enrolled, and the number and characteristics of participants who have left the program, including the reason(s) for leaving.” Also, any experienced or anticipated problems.
According to the grant agreement, the state’s evaluation activities may include “collecting and reporting services information and outcome information on every participant; … information on paternity establishment and establishment of, and collection on, child support orders…”
Yet when such materials are requested, the state will not produce any evidence that such information is being collected.
The grant agreement notes that DCS “will have at least a 30-day period for review and comment” on progress reports before releasing them to the public. Research for this story began about a year ago and around that time an open records request for all the public documents associated with this grant was issued. No outcomes analysis was ever made available.
The state failed to make public any of the required reports and left unheeded requests for program administrators to explain the relationship between the state and IFI.
The grant allows IFI to offer incentives to people interested in training to teach curricula such as John Covey’s The 8 Habits of a Successful Marriage. And it allows for incentives to referring organizations and celebrations of successes.
The DCS offered no accounting of these expenses. In fact, the only area for semi-detailed line-item summaries on the documents the state provided contained zeroes. Only total scheduled payouts were listed, annual installments of $350,000 since 2009, plus $100,000 in 2008.
The grant agreement also has a provision relating to the media. It says IFI will “cooperate with DCS in utilizing the media to promote this project.” The amendment goes on to emphasize the project’s aim to promote healthy family goals and “engage in an extensive public relations campaign supporting healthy marriages.” Yet DCS and IFI rebuffed numerous requests to discuss these goals.
No stranger to politics
While the flow of public information remains clogged, the communication links between IFI and Indiana’s political network are well-documented.
IFI President Curt Smith, a Sagamore of the Wabash recipient under Gov. Robert Orr, worked in Washington D.C. for 15 years as press secretary, campaign manager, communications director, state director and chief of staff for Sen. Dan Coats and Rep. John Hostettler.
In the mid-1990s, Coats introduced a group of bills known as the Project for American Renewal, which his website describes as “a comprehensive initiative aimed at shifting power and funding from Washington directly to local, faith-based and non-profit groups which are successfully working to resolve many of the Nation’s social problems.”
IFI demonstrated its skill for collecting such federal funding in 2005 when it received a $50,000 Compassion Capitol Fund grant for a “capacity growing program” focused on marriage.
Several GOP members of Indiana’s congressional delegation have helped IFI’s cash flow by using taxpayer money to send staff to IFI leadership seminars.
Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, in the article, “Faith Group Gets Paid for Training Hill Staff,” highlighted payments of $500 each from Indiana Reps. Larry Bucshon, Dan Burton and Todd Young and a $1,000 payment from Rep. Todd Rokita.
GOP Congressman Mike Pence, now running for governor, has appeared at IFI fundraisers and operates in lockstep with its agenda to defund Planned Parenthood based on erroneous claims that the women’s health provider uses federal funds to perform abortions. Mike Pence is a “founding congressional sponsor” of the IFI leadership program.
IFI has scores of like minds at the Statehouse. House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner, R- Cicero, is a prime example. At IFI’s annual fundraiser in 2009, GOP Reps. Turner and Dave Cheatham of North Vernon announced a renewed legislative push to pass an anti-same sex marriage amendment.
Last session, Turner authored both “the marriage amendment,” HJR6, and the abortion bill that moved to defund Planned Parenthood, HB1210.
Thirty-five representatives signed on as co-sponsors to HJR6. Fifty-two signed on for HB1210.
On the Senate side, Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, stepped up to sponsor both initiatives. HJR6 received the sponsorship or co-sponsorship of seven senators, HR1210 received six. Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, joined Banks and Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, as a primary sponsor of HJR 6 last session. Kruse is currently listed as an IFI advisor.
IFI staff “absolutely are the driving force behind [HJR6] É they worked very, very hard to get not-moderate Republicans into office and to introduce this legislation,” said Lori Morris, former president of Indiana Stonewall Democrats during a phone interview last year. “They have had a huge impact on LGBT issues in Indiana.”
Stonewall is a political action committee that works to elect LGBT people to office and support gay-rights legislation throughout the country.Morris was president during passage of the amendment.
The Indiana General Assembly must approve the amendment another time before it could be added to a 2014 ballot. If the voters approve it, the amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman would be added to the Indiana Constitution.
In declaring HJR6 a “featured victory” of the 2011 session, Smith posted the following statement on IFI’s website:
“Passing the Marriage Amendment by such overwhelming margins is an exciting step in IFI’s long-term plan to ignite an enduring cultural transformation. If pro-marriage majorities in the Indiana General Assembly are retained in November 2012, and the Marriage Amendment passes again in 2013 (placing marriage on the ballot in 2014) we hope to encourage a healthy debate on the importance of marriage within our society.”
Morris talked about the far-reaching impact IFI has on anti-gay legislation, as well as public opinion, in Indiana. “Of course they have had a huge impact on LGBT issues here,” Morris said. “Every article, I mean every article, that someone reads in the papers has the Indiana Family Institute’s commentary in it.”
In addition to its role in launching the anti-gay marriage amendment, the IFI also opposed hate-crime legislation designed to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, calling the effort “the brain-child of activists hoping to promote homosexuality, bisexuality and gender identity disorder.”
Bil Browning, former Indiana resident, gay rights activist and outspoken critic of IFI said in a Huffington Postarticle that IFI was “lying” when it “claimed the legislation would only protect the LGBT community. … They’re simply playing to personal prejudices and bigotry as well as the fear of “the other.”"
All in the family
The IFI filed articles of incorporation in 1989. The group is a state affiliate of Focus on the Family (FOF) and the Family Research Council (FRC), two of the most well-known, well-organized and politically influential Christian groups in the country.
The FRC functions as FOF’s political arm. Headed by Tony Perkins, the FRC garnered hate group status by The Southern Policy Law Center due to its anti-gay “hate-speech.” The SPLC justified its stance by citing a FRC pamphlet Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex with Boys:
“One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets of a new sexual order.’ “
Perkins wrote in 2010: “While activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two. … It is a homosexual problem.”
As it did with Daniels, Pence and Clinton prosecutor Kenneth Starr, IFI bestowed upon Perkins its “Friend of the Family” award.
The Internal Revenue Service requires non-profit groups to report some of their financial dealings on 990 tax forms.
An article in the Criterion quoted a Swayze analysis of Planned Parenthood’s tax forms from 2008.
“(R)evenue exceeded expenses by $2.1 million. In that same year, it received taxpayer subsidies of almost $2.9 million, an estimated $1.8 million of which was state-controlled dollars,” Swayze noted.
Swayze likens Medicaid funding of Planned Parenthood’s providing basic health care to underserved populations to taxpayer-funded abortion, a charge Planned Parenthood of Indiana rejects.
When asked for a comment on this story, Jon Mills, director of communications and marketing for Planned Parenthood of Indiana sent the following statement:
Planned Parenthood is a provider of high-quality, affordable health care serving more than 100,000 Hoosiers across the state, providing services such as life-saving cancer screenings, Pap tests, birth control, testing and treatment for STDs, sexual health education and health counseling. Planned Parenthood is a major provider of health care to underserved populations including those without insurance and those on Medicaid – and often times may be the only health care provider an individual sees. All federal and state dollars are dedicated solely for preventive health care for individuals who need it most. At a time when health costs are skyrocketing and many families are struggling to make ends meet, we should all be working to expand access to health care, not restrict it.
Neither Swayze nor her boss, Curt Smith, offered the applied the same enthusiasm demonstrated for analyzing PPI documents with the media to the task of tracking the Medicaid dollars flowing IFI’s way.
Analysis of IFI’s 990 from 2010 show a recent example of how its expenses trailed revenue in one category — that of marriage education training —while deficits in other categories were trimmed.
For its core activities of “providing education and events on issues impacting the family,” IFI reported receiving $404,466, up from $269,124 a year earlier. Reported salaries dropped to $90,000 from $195,794 in 2009. Expenses increased to $367,810 from $298,260 while IFI’s total liabilities shrank to $13,569 from $49,300. Swayze’s pay is not detailed. Smith reported compensation of $90,000. He also reported a $10,000 balance on a $40,000 loan for “cash flow purposes.”
It is unclear whether IFI is accounting for the DCS money separately from its 990. If not, the grant for 2010 represents 87 percent of that year’s take. IFI’s 2009 reported receipts fell short of the $350,000 the state allocated for IFI’s Hoosier Commitment. But, IFI lists Hoosier Commitment expenses along with the leadership program’s expenses for total program expenses of $312,860 in 2010.
For $59,752 in 2010, the form said, Hoosier Commitment served 347 people. This is the most detailed statement of accountability that extended research and open records requests could yield — one line on Part III of Section C of IRS form 990 for 2010.
IFI checked a box later on in the 990 indicating that it should fill out a tax schedule detailing lobbying expenditures to influence public opinion at the grassroots level or direct lobbying of a legislative body. But the spaces of the required schedule are all blank. So no transparency of the lines between lobbyist, policy wonk and social worker are apparent to the average citizen.
The state is not worried
According to an email from Indiana Inspector General David Thomas, “state employees are bound by the full Code of Ethics. Contractors, such as grantees [IFI] are not bound by the full Code of Ethics — only the donor restriction rule, meaning they may not offer gifts to state employees.”
Gifts are not allowed, but questions remain unanswered what sort of compensatory wiggle room may be found in the unaudited, multi-year grant.
In 2010, officials added amendment No. 1 to the DCS grant agreement with IFI first signed in 2008. The change allowed the state “to match federal child support funds with in-kind contributions by third parties.”
But who are these third parties and is their interest in donating at all examined for conflicts of interest? This question also remains unanswered.
IFI agreed to raise $510,000 in matching local dollars to maximize federal support of the DCS grant. But IFI has made no public accounting of these donations. The contract states IFI must source matching funds from contributors who have “no contractual or financial relationship with the state that could raise a question of conflict of interest or any appearance of impropriety.”The packet then refers to the ethical requirements “that apply to persons who have a business relationship with the state” in addition to complying with all “state, federal and local laws … related to religious, lobbying and political activity.”
The award and utilization of federal grants are governed by many rules. IFI must abide by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, any funds from a grant must be kept in a separate account and apart from any political activity and proselytizing. State civil rights laws apply as well, along with the Americans With Disabilities Act and other employment and beneficiary rights guarantees.
But complaints about discrimination against LGBT people would have no legal outlet for relief in Indiana. IFI and the Indiana General Assembly have so far been successful at preventing efforts to enact an anti-LGBT discrimination law in Indiana.
Watchdog groups such as ACLU find that proving full separation of assets between policy groups such as IFI and associated political action committees is difficult because smaller organizations tend to occupy the same space and utilize the same employees.Furthermore, according to a representative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, officials realize overlap is likely even though it’s not technically allowed.
A similar program to Hoosier Commitment run by the Iowa Family Policy Center, another FRC affiliate, resulted in an Iowa ACLU investigation and unanswered questions about the “beneficiary rights” of gay couples seeking counseling. According to an AP investigation in 2011:
[IFPC] paid for education and counseling services — but also funded employee salaries and utility expenses as the group fought against gay marriage on multiple fronts.
According to one University of Iowa researcher who consulted on the grants, the center also refused to provide [relationship counseling] services to same-sex couples.
Law and Policy Professor Sheila Kennedy of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis has spent years looking into taxpayer grants to ‘faith-based’ organizations.
In an upcoming academic article she writes that historical notions of a conflict of interest, “where a person makes a decision in his official capacity that results in personal financial gain” are broadening as conflicts become more common as leaders adopt multiple careers, positions and allegiances.
“(I)t now includes conflicts of roles or duties — the sort of conflict that led the Founders to create our system of checks and balancesÉ Increasingly, conflicts of interest are now conceptualized as a form of biased judgment.If — due to some particular interest or belief — a public official is incapable of rendering a fair judgment or decision, the existence of that bias may constitute a conflict of interest.”
Rob Boston is a senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a watchdog group that works to protect the constitutional wall keeping religion out of politics and politics out of religion.
Boston, with over two decades of experience monitoring the religious right behind him, said the relationship IFI has with the State of Indiana is the most entwined he has ever seen.
Still, a nationwide lobbying effort is afoot to advance IFI’s particular, but by no means universal, interpretation of Christian theology in the government sphere. Boston notes that examples of taxpayers funding such groups are common.
“Unfortunately, this kind of relationship,” between Christian conservative groups, politics, and their receipt of federal funding “is par for the course,” Boston said.
— Rebecca Townsend contributed to this report