Focus on the Family

New Insights Into the Right’s Big Money Shell Game Highlight Need for the DISCLOSE Act

In today’s legal landscape, “following the money” is tricky – but a new report released yesterday shows why this work is critical to anyone who cares about progressive change. The latest digging from the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets blog has uncovered new information about a multi-tiered money laundering operation through which tax-exempt groups funnel millions to groups supporting right-wing causes and candidates. 

Operating behind a thick veil of secrecy, groups like TC4 Trust and the Center to Protect Patient Rights – which Open Secrets describes as “‘shadow money mailboxes’ – groups that do virtually nothing but pass grants through to other politically active 501(c)(4) organizations” – are able to hide both their donors and their recipients.  By funneling grants through “sub-units,” which are owned by the larger groups but have different names, groups like TC4 Trust put millions into the pockets of 501(c)4 organizations supporting Republican causes in the 2012 elections, such as the advocacy arm of Focus on the Family.

As Open Secrets reports,

[T]heir financial ties run far deeper than previously known.  The groups, TC4 Trust and the Center to Protect Patient Rights – both of which have connections to the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers – have been playing a high-stakes game of hide-the-ball, disguising transfers of millions of dollars from one to the other behind a veil of Delaware limited liability corporations.

The source of political advocacy matters.  This latest example of dark money donor groups obscuring the links of their money trail underscores the urgent need for legislation like the DISCLOSE Act.  This act would bring some basic transparency to the electoral system and require outside groups spending money in elections to disclose their donors – including the original source of donations.  The measure, which was blocked by Senate Republicans in both 2010 and 2012, is a common-sense solution that would help the American people understand who is trying to influence their political opinions and their votes.

PFAW

Connecticut and The Cause Of Our National Political Paralysis

Call it an occupational hazard for someone who pays close attention to the right wing in America. On Friday, even while my mind and heart were struggling with how to take in, much less make sense of, the news about the killings at a Connecticut elementary school, another part of me was steeling itself for what I knew was to come.

And come it has. Rather than contributing to constructive discussion about a way forward on issues like the insufficient availability of mental health treatment and the extravagant availability of equipment designed for large-scale killing, Religious Right leaders and their Tea Party allies have wasted no time in placing blame for the killing on their usual targets: liberals, teachers, religious pluralism, judges, and the separation of church and state. Yet again.

These past few days have reminded me how Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, while the smoke had not even cleared from the destruction of the World Trade Center, blamed liberals, feminists, gays, People For the American Way, and others for the attacks. Falwell was shamed into an apology, which he later recanted. But Religious Right leaders are showing no shame in using this tragedy to push their agendas in offensive and destructive ways.

On his radio station Monday morning, James Dobson cited lack of belief in God, legal abortion, the advance of marriage equality as reasons for the school shooting: "I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that's what's going on."

The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer also blessed his listeners with his personal insight into what he says was God's gentlemanly reason not to protect those children from harm:

God is not going to go where he is not wanted. Now we have spent since 1962 - we're 50 years into this now - we have spent 50 years telling God to get lost. Telling God, 'We do not want you in our schools.'...In 1962 we kicked prayer out of the schools. In 1963 we kicked the word of God out of the schools. In 1980 we kicked the Ten Commandments out of schools. We've kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, 'Hey, I'll be glad to protect your children, but you've got to invite me back into your world first. I'm not going to go where I am not wanted. I am a gentleman.

Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee made similar comments as did others. The Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody defended them from their critics, saying their views were shared by millions of evangelicals.

Why look at what these people are saying? Because of the real power they now hold. What they say is what keeps us from even discussing, never mind solving, this country's critical problems.

Even efforts to bring people together to comfort the suffering brought attacks. Operation Save America called Sunday's interfaith memorial service "an affront to Almighty God" and added that "We expelled God from school and banished Him from the schoolyard. He was replaced with metal detectors, condoms, policemen, anti-bullying policies, No-gun zones, and violence of unprecedented order."

One of the most dismaying statements came predictably from Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel, who responded to President Obama's remarks at the memorial service on Sunday with this tweet:

Absolute slime ball, #Obama exploiting memorial service to push radical#GunControl. His extremism knows no lows#Newtown

It is amazing what can be conveyed about our politics in 140 characters or less. It strikes me that Barber's tweet is emblematic of everything that the radical right has done to distort our political system and destroy our ability to even have a reasonable conversation about critical problems the country needs to solve.

Would that this was just about guns. This frenzied effort to forestall even a conversation about the ready availability of military-style weapons - and this is even before the NRA itself wades in - points to a larger picture.

Just five years ago, we were able to have some reasonable political conversations, even across party lines, about important issues like climate change and immigration reform. Of course, there were significant disagreements about the exact nature of the issues and the proper policy responses. But more recently, any effort to even acknowledge the existence of climate change runs up against a solid wall of denialism from the right wing and most importantly from legislators who now so fear the far right. Similarly, some conservatives who championed comprehensive immigration reform five or six years ago saw the effort savaged by the right wing who sounded the alarm of losing white America.

On the fiscal front, Grover Norquist's no-taxes-ever pledge, backed with the kind of political intimidation that deep-pocketed ideologues have perfected in the Tea Party era, have made it nearly impossible for the country to seriously address both its short-term job shortage and its long-term deficit problem. And we saw last year that the fear of a right wing primary challenge is much greater than the fear of damaging the credit rating of our country.

The horrific shootings in Connecticut may be leading some elected officials to consider tackling some problems that have been ignored or considered politically off-limits. But we should not have to rely on tragedies to overcome obstacles to needed action. While the far right's ideological enforcers can be counted on to fight any move by conservatives toward common sense and common ground, such movement is essential. As we are sometimes so painfully reminded, Americans need a functional political system, one with the ability to address urgent political questions to achieve much needed compromises. And quite simply, none of this can happen until we have political leaders with the courage to stand up against the far right's willingness to paralyze our country.

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.

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How Exactly Does Focus on the Family Plan to Help the Gay Couples Whose Marriages They Are Trying To Invalidate?

Yesterday’s Senate hearing on the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act was a case study in the contrasts between pro-marriage equality and anti-marriage equality arguments. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee called as witnesses gay citizens who had been actively hurt by DOMA, including two widowers who were left with no federal protections when their husbands died. Republicans, presumably unable to come up with any straight couples to testify that their marriages had been helped by DOMA, instead called a number of “experts” from right-wing think tanks to tell the gay witnesses that their second-class status is actually for the best.

This made for some jarring exchanges, most notably this one:

Ron Wallen, a 77-year-old Californian told the heartwrenching story of nursing his husband and partner of 58 years through leukemia…only to be left when he died in both emotional and financial turmoil. Because of DOMA, Wallen was unable to receive the protections that the federal government provides to widowed spouses, including Social Security survivor benefits. Because he does not have access to the financial safety net provided to all other widows, he is being forced to sell his home “even while I am still answering the condolence cards that come in the mail.”

The Survivor’s Benefit would have done for me what it does for every other surviving spouse in America -- ease the pain of the loss, help during a very difficult transition, and allow time to make decisions and plan for my future alone. It is devastating to know that any married couple in the U.S. regardless of how long they were married, can depend on the Survivor’s Benefit. Yet, I could not --after 58 years with my spouse-- simply because we were two married men. This is unfair and unjust.

After a lifetime of being a productive citizen, I am now facing financial chaos. Tom and I worked hard, and together we tried to live out our own version of the American dream. We served our country; we paid our taxes; we volunteered in the community; we bought a home and maintained it properly; and got married as soon as we were legally able to do so. And yet, as I face a future alone without my spouse of 58 years, it is hard to believe that it is the American government that is throwing me out of my family home.

Wallen’s heartfelt testimony was immediately followed by that of DOMA proponent Thomas Minnery of Focus on the Family, who, recognizing that his anti-equality testimony might seem callous coming directly after Wallen’s story, decided to try to save face by offering Wallen his organization’s help:

Mr. Wallen, my heart goes out to you. My organization is very large and we do a lot of counseling of families to help them thrive in a difficult and complex society, and we have resources for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God’s design and for parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles….Mr. Wallen, we have resources that I believe will help you even in your current situation, and if you’d permit us, we’d love to try to be helpful to you.

Minnery’s offer came off as slightly less than sincere when it was followed by five minutes of testimony about how giving Wallen’s marriage full federal benefits would lead to the destruction of American society.

The Advocate caught up with Wallen after the hearing, and asked him if he planned on taking Minnery up on his offer. Wallen responded: “I was shocked when he offered condolences, and was in disbelief when he was offering his services. If I were looking for help, his [organization] would be the last place I would go to.”

Someone should have told Minnery that it’s really hard to truly show your love for someone while you’re simultaneously lobbying for a law that’s specifically designed to hurt them.

 

 

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Senate holds historic hearing on DOMA repeal

Today, Sen. Patrick Leahy convened the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold the body's first ever hearing on the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages, was signed into law in 1996, and since then has had a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of married gay and lesbian couples and their families.

In March, Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the discriminatory policies of DOMA and provide the same federal rights and benefits to same-sex married couples as their opposite-sex counterparts.

The three-panel hearing began with powerful and profound testimony from Rep. John Lewis, a leader of the Civil Rights movement. Calling DOMA a “stain on our democracy,” Lewis reaffirmed his continued commitment to fighting for the civil rights of all people, including gays and lesbians.

Representative Nadler echoed much of Lewis’ testimony, adding that DOMA hurts same-sex couples, especially those with children, because of the financial burdens that it places on them. Many of the witnesses in the second panel told stories of how the discriminatory law has been both a psychological and financial hardships for them and their spouses.

Because only two DOMA-supporting senators, Orin Hatch and Chuck Grassley, were willing to show up at the hearing, the task of arguing against the legislations repeal was left to some of the witnesses.

Edward Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center claimed that the fight for marriage equality and repeal of DOMA is part of the left’s plan to “path the way for polygamy and other polyamorous relationships,” ignoring the fact that no state to legalize marriage equality has seen any organized movement to legalize polygamy.

Thomas Minnery of Focus on the Family claimed research shows children raised in households headed by a same-sex couple were worse off than those in a “traditional family,” ignoring, well, just about every scrap of objective research on the subject. The research he was citing, however, was a study done by the Department of Health and Human Services, which in fact suggests children are better off with two parents regardless of their gender.

Watch Sen. Al Franken question Minnery’s misuse of the study below: 

The Senators asked the witnesses important questions about the very real and powerful harms DOMA has caused same-sex couples and their families. Many of their stories were heartbreaking and show the necessity for repealing this discriminatory law.

Contact your representative and senators and urge them to support the Respect for Marriage Act. All Americans deserve to be treated with fairness and dignity, and the Respect of Marriage Act would ensure that all Americans have access to the protections that only marriage can afford.

PFAW

Who's Who in Today's DOMA Hearing

Cross-posted on RIght Wing Watch

Senate Republicans have called Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, David Nimocks of the Alliance Defense Fund and Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center as witnesses in today’s hearing on the “Defense of Marriage Act.” The groups these witnesses represent have a long record of extreme rhetoric opposing gay rights:

CitizenLink, Focus on the Family’s political arm, is a stalwart opponent of gay rights in every arena:

• Focus on the Family has consistently railed against the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, demanding the discriminatory policy’s reinstatement.

• The group claims anti-bullying programs that protect LGBT and LGBT-perceived youth in schools amount to “homosexual indoctrination” and “promote homosexuality in kids.”

• The group insists that House Republicans investigate the Justice Department over its refusal to defend the unconstitutional Section 3 of DOMA.

The Ethics and Public Policy Center is backed by the far-right Sarah Scaife Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Koch- backed Castle Rock Foundation, all well-known right-wing funders.

• George Weigel of EPPC wrote in June that “legally enforced segregation involved the same kind of coercive state power that the proponents of gay marriage now wish to deploy on behalf of their cause.”

• Ed Whelan spearheaded the unsuccessful and widely panned effort to throw out Judge Vaughn Walker’s 2010 decision finding California’s Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional on the grounds that Walker was in a committed same-sex relationship at the time of the decision.

The Alliance Defense Fund, which bills itself as a right-wing counter to the American Civil Liberties Union, is dedicated to pushing a far-right legal agenda:

• The ADF has been active on issues including pushing "marriage protection," exposing the "homosexual agenda" and fighting the supposed "war on Christmas."

• The ADF claims 38 “victories” before the Supreme Court, including: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited money on elections in the name of “free speech” and Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000), which allowed the Boy Scouts to fire a Scout Leader because he was gay.

PFAW

Focus on the Family Leader Admits that Right is “Losing” Equality Debate

Jim Daly, president of the Religious Right group Focus on the Family conceded to an interviewer last week that anti-gay groups have “probably lost” the debate over marriage equality. It’s a big admission by a prominent figure on the Right, but it’s also an acknowledgement of what has become common sense. Poll after poll shows that for the first time majorities of Americans support marriage equality, with the highest numbers among young people. As anti-gay legislation is fought out in the courts and in statehouses, it is accompanied by a sea change in public opinion that threatens to make it archaic.

After last summer’s federal court decision striking down California’s Proposition 8, PFAW’s Michael Keegan noticed that Religious Right activists were beginning to admit defeat on gay rights:

This parade of apoplectic anger is nothing new--the Right has fought every step toward acceptance of gay people with similar Armageddon-invoking tirades. What is remarkable about the reaction to the Prop 8 decision is that within the anger are the beginnings of admissions of defeat. The Right has won many important battles against gay rights, but they are losing the war...and they know it.

A few days after Judge Walker's decision, the pseudo-historian David Barton, founder and president of the right-wing group WallBuilders, explicitly described the nervousness that has been behind much of the Right's outrage. The case against Proposition 8, Barton argued, could win in the Supreme Court...so opponents of marriage equality should sacrifice California in order to save anti-equality laws in 31 other states.

"Right now the damage is limited to California only," Barton told Tim Wildmon, President of the American Family Association during a radio interview, "but if California appeals this to the US Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court with Kennedy will go for California, which means all 31 states will go down in flames, although right now this decision is limited only to California...the problem is that instead of California losing its amendment, now 31 states lose their amendment. And that won't happen if California doesn't appeal this.

Last week, I went to a talk with the attorneys arguing the Prop 8 case, Ted Olson and David Boies. Olson said he saw their job as having two parts: presenting the Constitutional case against discrimination in the court of law, and presenting it in the “court of public opinion.”

“If we win this case,” Olson said, “we want people to look at it and say, ‘Of course. It’s about time.’”

Constitutional rights should never be decided by the will of the majority – that’s why we have constitutional rights in the first place. But Olson and Boies are building their case in a country where the rights of gays and lesbians are increasingly accepted as a given. The Religious Right isn’t going to give up its fight against equality anytime soon. But its leaders are beginning to see that they are fighting a losing battle in both the court of law and the court of public opinion.

PFAW

The Most Outrageous Ads of the Election

This election cycle has experienced a massive flood of political spending following the dramatic weakening of campaign finance laws in cases such as Citizens United and SpeechNow. According to Political Correction, between August 1st and October 29th, the ten biggest right-wing groups, many of which are backed by contributions by corporations and don’t publicly disclose their donors, have spent about $100 million to air 109,826 ads. Many of the conservative candidates and organizations have been employing false claims and polarizing smears in their ads meant to foment cultural divisions and discredit progressive legislation. Here are just a handful of the most outrageous and irresponsible ads used this election year:

Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

The Right Wing has used the Park51 Community Center as a way to provoke fear, stoke divisions, and promote intolerance. The debate surrounding the community center has been riddled with attacks on religious freedom and baseless claims that the project’s organizers have ties to extremist groups, and the right has attempted to make the community center in Lower Manhattan an election issue in places like Iowa and North Carolina.

American Future Fund:

Renee Ellmers (Republican nominee, NC-02)

Anti-Health Care Reform

The recently passed health care reform law has been hammered by outside groups and conservative politicians with numerous dishonest and misleading attacks. Independent fact checkers have confirmed that the law does not use taxpayer funds to pay for abortion or drugs like Viagra for sex offenders. Other false and deceptive claims include allegations that the reform law establishes death panels, creates an army of IRS agents to arrest people without coverage, cuts Medicare benefits, and leads to the government takeover of the health care system.

American Action Network:

Susan B. Anthony List & CitizenLink (Focus on the Family Action):

Anti-Immigrant Extremism

Conservative politicians are taking cues from the Right Wing Playbook on Immigration Reform by attempting to portray Latinos in America as violent criminals who threaten White Americans. While smearing Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the DREAM Act, such anti-immigrant ads unfairly depict Latinos as invaders, gangsters, and welfare-beneficiaries. Even Sharron Angle tried to distance herself from her campaign’s ads by claiming that they are not Latinos but could actually be “terrorists” from Canada.

Sharron Angle (Republican nominee, NV-SEN):

Sen. David Vitter (Republican nominee, LA-SEN):

PFAW

Focus on the Family Brings Sex-Ed Fight to China

While consistently pushing to marginalize and prohibit comprehensive sex-education in schools throughout the United States, Focus on the Family is now hoping to introduce flawed abstinence-only programs in China. William Wan writes in the Washington Post that Focus on the Family is gaining a significant foothold in the country:

In Yunnan schools this year, teachers are being trained with a sex education curriculum created by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. The agreement with the Yunnan ministry of education is a milestone for Focus on the Family, which has struggled for four years to make inroads on abstinence in China.

But China isn’t the only country that has been the subject of Focus on the Family’s efforts:

In the past decade, Focus on the Family has found relative success with its abstinence program in other countries - notably majority Muslim nations such as Egypt and Malaysia, where its Christian brand of abstinence coincides with the teachings of Islam.

Worldwide, the group says it has reached nearly 3 million teens. Despite Focus on the Family’s new push to bring abstinence-only until marriage programs into schools across the world, abstinence-only education in the US has been an abysmal failure. A congressional report from Representative Henry Waxman found that abstinence-only programs frequently employ misleading and erroneous information about human health and contraceptives. Moreover, studies show that signers of the virginity pledge, “the hallmark of the Christian group's abstinence program,” tend to engage in sex before marriage at the same rate of those who do not sign a virginity pledge, while pledge-takers are less likely to use contraceptives or seek testing for sexually transmitted diseases. “No abstinence-only program has yet been proven through rigorous evaluation to help youth delay sex for a significant period of time, help youth decrease their number of sex partners, or reduce STI or pregnancy rates among teens,” writes Advocates for Youth. With Focus pushing unsuccessful abstinence-only curriculums abroad, Americans should be wondering why our federal government still provides $50 million to promote the fundamentally flawed and ineffective programs.

PFAW

Focus on the Family’s New Target: Anti-Bullying Policies

Maintaining that “activist groups that want to promote homosexuality in kids” seek to violate the “innocence and purity of children,” Focus on the Family has launched the “True Tolerance” campaign to prevent “homosexuals” from capturing “the hearts and minds of our children at their earliest ages.” The Orwellian-named True Tolerance project believes that efforts by school districts to improve safety among their students through enacting anti-bullying policies are actually trying to send a “message about homosexuality — that it's normal and should be embraced.”

According to Focus on the Family, anti-bullying and anti-harassment laws are only meant to produce “special protections” for LGBT students and “reverse discrimination.” The far-right group says that schools should instead “unite around the teachings of our Founding Fathers— in particular, the principle that all men are created equal and that they are endowed with unalienable rights.” However, Focus on the Family believes that the sexual orientation and gender identity of students should determine just how “equal” they are.

Research from GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) shows that the vast majority of LGBT students have experienced verbal harassment in schools, and that 44.1% of LGBT students “reported being physically harassed and 22.1% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.” Educators are solidly in favor of strategies to thwart bullying, and 85% of secondary school teachers “agree that they have an obligation to ensure a safe learning environment for LGBT students.”

The push to stop schools from implementing policies to prevent harassment and bullying is a dangerous new low in the Religious Right’s long and vicious fight against equality for the LGBT community. Currently, only twelve states and the District of Columbia have policies meant to protect students based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. With increased attention on the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Nondiscrimination Act, Focus on the Family intends to gear up its fight to block school districts from protecting some of their most vulnerable students from maltreatment and violence.

PFAW

New Rasmussen Supreme Court Poll: Garbage In, Garbage Out

This week, right-wing polling firm Rasmussen Reports heralded a new poll which supposedly revealed that 64% of Americans think that "Supreme Court decisions should be based on what is written in the Constitution," whereas only 27% think the decisions "should be guided by fairness and justice." Yes, you heard that right, Rasmussen conducted a poll which pitted "fairness and justice" against "what is written in the Constitution" and then blasted out a press release about their amazing findings.

The media all too often treats pollsters like they're interchangeable, and that's a shame. Rasmussen is infamous among pollsters for its automated polling method – computers, not people, ask the questions – which is frowned upon by mainstream practitioners. And sometimes I have to wonder whether the computers are doing more than just asking the questions. It's almost as if they're writing the poll questions and sending out the press releases too.

But back to this week's poll. Focus on the Family quickly chimed in to say it "reveals that the American people are much more conservative regarding judges than our president is or any of the liberals in Congress." This is laughable, but we can't just laugh it off.

The Right has convinced millions of Americans that the Constitution is inherently conservative and that woolly-headed liberal judges disregard the Constitution and our laws in order to reach their desired outcomes. But these are just myths they've created to help prevent what we, and the overwhelming majority of Americans, really want: a Supreme Court that interprets the Constitution in a fair and just way. There is no need to choose between "fairness and justice" and "what is written in the Constitution." We want both.

And as for Rasmussen, it's clear enough to see the game they're playing. If you ask people ridiculous questions they're going to give you ridiculous responses. You don't need a poll and a press release to tell us that.

Kathryn Kolbert is president of People For the American Way Foundation

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