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Iowa Family Policy Center received over $3 million in federal funds
Between 2004 and 2009 the politically influential Christian organization Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC) received more than $3 million in federal grants through two subsidiaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In 2004 and 2005 the IFPC received a total of $850,000 from the Administration for Children and Families’ Compassion Capital Fund. From 2006 to 2009 they received $2.2 million through the U.S. Healthy Marriage Demonstration Fund, which is doled out in yearly increments of $550,000 and will be awarded to IFPC through 2011.
The Iowa Family Policy Center’s 2007 tax return claims $558,337 of their $1.1 million revenue came from federal grants. Tom Campbell, a representative at the Administration of Children and Families (ACF), the awarding agency within the HHS, said this money must be passed from the IFPC to a third-party to execute the Healthy Marriage Demonstration — the name under which the grants were awarded to IFPC — as part of the government’s Healthy Marriage Program.
The money IFPC receives apparently goes to a marriage-counseling program called Marriage Matters, which offers couples weekends along with marriage and pre-marital mentoring.
The IFPC and its political action committee are a leading voice of opposition to same-sex marriage in Iowa. The group advocates for an amendment to the Iowa Constitution banning same-sex marriage through their LUV Iowa initiative. They also support the candidacy of Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bob Vander Plaats, who has promised to issue an executive order putting a stay on the Iowa Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage until a constitutional ban is brought up for a vote.
The group has also created its share of controversy, most recently garnering headlines when it publicly claimed that homosexual activity was “more dangerous for individuals who engage in it than is smoking,” and thus, needed to be banned via constitutional amendment.
Recipients of federal funds are bound by the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and therefore cannot discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion or disability in providing services. However, even though the Iowa Supreme Court ruled last year that a same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, sexual orientation is not currently part of any federal civil rights language.
Bryan English, the director of communications for the IFPC, said recently in a phone interview regarding the one-year anniversary of same-sex marriage in Iowa, “This isn’t a civil rights issue. [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 offered, “Their [homosexuals] behavior first and foremost is inherently sinful,” later adding: “Promoting gay behavior, teens will choose that lifestyle, make poor choices and become more susceptible to STDs.”
Des Moines resident and blogger Erich Riesenberg first reported the $3 million in grants on his blog, chuckhurls.com, which was launched in response to the IFPC’s “more dangerous than smoking” claims and is named after the group’s president, Chuck Hurley.
“I used to work for non-profits and am familiar with how they work,” Riesenberg said. “Knowing that [the IFPC is] a non-profit organization that in my opinion seems like a hate group, I wanted to check them out.”
Spending overlap probable
Dr. Mike Hartwig is the vice president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, for which he receives an annual salary of $78,098. Hartwig also serves as the program director for IFPC’s Marriage Matters, the program that is supposed to be the recipient of the federal grants.
Mike Hartwig, Chuck Hurley, Bryan English, Marriage Matters, The Iowa Family Policy Center and the IFPC Action PAC all share office space at 1100 N. Hickory Blvd. in Pleasant Hill, just east of Des Moines.
According to a representative of the U.S. Healthy Marriage program in Washington, D.C., federal grants are to be passed out through an intermediary organization (IFPC) to the Healthy Marriage Program contractor (Marriage Matters). But he did admit that certain overlap in spending might occur between the grantee and contractor programs, although not technically allowed.
Marriage Matters is not registered with Iowa Secretary of State as a separate corporation, but rather as a registered trademark of the Iowa Family Policy Center.
The federal Compassion Capital and Healthy Marriage grants are meant to build capacity and conduct training of staff and board of directors but may not be used in the direct administration of service. This means that IFPC’s 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 HHS representative said that from every indication the IFPC met all the requirements on the front end for securing the grant. The awarding federal agency is responsible for oversight on the back end, after the money has been released to the grantee. However, many times the HHS relies on citizen’s reporting suspected abuse in use of federal dollars to begin an investigation.
Steve Klingaman, a Minneapolis based non-profit consultant who reviewed the IFPC’s 2007 tax returns for The Iowa Independent, said, “In terms of allocations to programs versus administration and fundraising, their reported percentages are almost perfect,” later adding: “I have interest in what seems to be a disproportionately high expenditure on program service insurance as well.”
While IFPC’s political work may raise concerns for church/state activists, Klingaman says without knowing the timeline of programming and specific grantees of IFPC funding, it is impossible to determine if there is any impropriety.
A spokesman for IFPC did not return numerous phone messages seeking comment.