This material was created by Campus Progress.
A right-wing Iowa group that successfully campaigned for the ousting of three state Supreme Court justices, whose ruling legalized same-sex marriage, used federal funding to support some of its efforts, aninvestigation by the Associated Press reveals.
The FAMiLY Leader, formerly called the Iowa Family Policy Center, collected $2.2 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2006-2010 to offer marriage counseling services.
But those taxpayer dollars helped the socially conservative group function while it persuaded voters to kick three Supreme Court justices off the bench—the first time in the state’s history voters have removed a judge. The group also turned away same-sex couples from the counseling services despite the fact that gay marriage was legal in the state.
“During this grant time the group was working to promote an agenda that included their involvement in politics in terms of trying to defeat the retention of three Iowa Supreme Court justices," Randall Wilson, the legal director for Iowa’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter, told the AP. "It becomes concerning, too, when federal money subsidizes or potentially could have been used to subsidize a political effort."
According to records obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act, FAMiLY Leader used the funds to pay for “part of the salaries of five employees, rent, telephone, Internet and other expenses while it was fighting legalized gay marriage in Iowa.” The AP reports:
There's no indication the costs run afoul of federal guidelines. Still, critics said the grant was potentially troubling because it was involved in a high-profile effort to respond to the Iowa Supreme Court's 2009 ruling legalizing gay marriage at the time and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is investigating.
FAMiLY Leader officials maintain the funding it spent on operational expenses during its anti-gay marriage work falls within the scope of the grant.
But Jeff Angelo, a former state senator who now runs the pro-same-sex marriage group Iowa Republicans for Freedom, told the AP:
If you are putting money to support offices, phone and Internet services and the salary of someone whose main job is partisan political work, you can't just argue in a very nebulous way this money was used to save marriages. This doesn't pass the test.
FAMiLY Leader is no stranger to controversy.
Its president, failed Iowa governor hopeful Bob Vander Plaats, provides a bottomless supply of radical comments. In the past few few months alone he has:
- Erupted in laughter at a joke about “fags” being allowed to legally marry in Iowa.
- Likened homosexuality to “cancerous effects of second-hand smoke,” arguing gay and lesbians have significantly shorter life expectancies and wildly higher rates of cancer.
- Argued that legalizing same-sex marriage would “open it up” to “bisexual, polygamy, multiple women” or “a dad that wants to marry his son.”
- Introduced a pledge for presidential candidates to sign that argues homosexuality is a choice, supports a ban on pornography, and implies children born to slaves in the 1860s were better off than African-American children born today.
Several pro-LGBT groups, including One Iowa, in Iowa called on Vander Plaats to return any taxpayer money used to fund anti-gay marriage efforts.
“If one dollar of this funding was used to help remove the Supreme Court Justices or push their anti-equality political agenda,” One Iowa director Troy Price said in a statement, “then they should give our money back, and give it back now.”
Brian Stewart is a journalism network associate at Campus Progress.