IOWA CITY, Iowa – Federal grant money awarded to a social conservative group to provide marriage counseling also helped pay some of its operational expenses while it was leading an anti-gay marriage campaign, according to grant documents obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act.
The $2.2 million received by the Iowa Family Policy Center between 2006 and 2010 helped hundreds of Iowans receive education and counseling, according to the documents. But it also paid for part of the salaries of five employees, rent, telephone, Internet and other expenses while it was fighting legalized gay marriage in Iowa.
A University of Iowa researcher who was a consultant on the grant also told AP the group declined to serve same-sex couples with the money.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials approved the grant budget, and 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. A public backlash led Iowa voters to oust three justices last year.
The Iowa Family Policy Center and its political and advocacy arms, all housed in the same office with its marriage program, were a major player in fanning those flames. It first called for blocking the ruling from taking effect and then called on lawmakers to amend Iowa’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
The group supported Bob Vander Plaats for the Republican nomination for governor last year, who vowed to sign an executive order overturning the ruling, and criticized Terry Branstad for not being strong enough on the issue. After Vander Plaats lost to Branstad in the primary, he became the face of the push to oust the justices and worked with the group to organize the campaign.
The group, now known as the Family Leader and a force in this year’s Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa, turned down the fifth year of the grant worth $550,000. Liberals and conservatives alike had questioned the grant, but group leaders say they decided to transition off of government dollars to be run by donations.