Focus on the Family vastly outpaced Mormon spending on Proposition 8

Focus on the Family administration building in Colorado Springs. (Photo/David Shankbone, Wikimedia)

Focus on the Family administration building in Colorado Springs. (Photo/David Shankbone, Wikimedia)

Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family gave $727,250 in cash and services to the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 campaign in California, according to records released by the California secretary of state, including a $100,000 check in late October, just days before the evangelical media empire announced it planned to lay off nearly 20 percent of its employees.

While there has been public scrutiny of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its attempts to influence the campaign to reverse a California Supreme Court ruling allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, Focus on the Family and related donors pumped more than six times as much as the Mormon church did into the campaign, records show.

Altogether, donations supporting Proposition 8 from Focus on the Family, one of its major benefactors and an offshoot lobbying organization totaled more than $1.251 million — just shy of the $1.275 million contributed by’s largest donor, the Knights of Columbus, the Connecticut-based political arm of the Catholic Church. In addition to $727,250 reported by Focus on the Family, major backer and board member Elsa Prince, the billionaire heiress of Holland, Mich., donated $450,000 to in two cash chunks and the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, a Christian-right lobbying organization spun off from Focus on the Family and founded in part by Prince’s foundation, chipped in $74,400.

“People are keenly aware of how much money was put in by the hate groups,” said Rick Jacobs, chair and founder of the Courage Campaign, a progressive California organization leading the charge to overturn Proposition 8 in court. “It’s good to get the facts finally out about how much Focus did put in.”

The Mormon church donated $189,000 in nonmonetary expenditures — mostly staff time and airline tickets — to help pass the ballot measure, according to the latest disclosure from the California secretary of state. The church remains “under investigation” by the California Fair Political Practices Commission after a complaint was filed against the church by the anti-Proposition 8 group Californians Against Hate, the Salt Lake Tribune reported Monday.

“One of the reasons the Courage Campaign highlighted the role of the leadership of the Mormon church in this campaign,” Jacobs said, “is that people do not like outside interference. They certainly don’t like having right-wing religious organizations telling them how to live their lives.”

The Proposition 8 campaign was the most expensive social-issue ballot question in national history at just over $83 million, with proponents of the marriage ban raising $40 million and opponents raising $43 million, California election records show. Voters approved the measure with 52 percent of the vote, but both sides are arguing the constitutionality of the measure in state court.

Focus on the Family donated more to the Proposition 8 campaign than has been reported, The Colorado Independent has found. A widely reported sum of “$657,000 in money and services” donated toward the ballot measure by Focus falls short of the total, failing to account for contributions made by the organization as long ago as November 2007 when Focus on the Family helped seed with a $50,000 cash contribution. The evangelical group spent another $35,650 in December 2007 supporting the anti-gay marriage group with Web ads, e-mail blasts, radio broadcasts, printing and postage, according to a disclosure form filed with the California secretary of state. Total 2008 contributions from Focus on the Family to the Proposition 8 campaign were $641,600, according to disclosure forms filed in January and made available to the public a week ago. A Focus on the Family spokesman didn’t return a call seeking comment.

In addition — though apart from the $727,250 spent directly to pass Proposition 8 — Focus on the Family donated $14,915 in 2007 to the Save Our Kids referendum to overturn a California law that says “no teacher shall give instruction nor shall a school district sponsor any activity that promotes a discriminatory bias because of” homosexuality, transsexuality, bisexuality, or transgender status. That campaign didn’t make it to the ballot, but was a precursor to the Proposition 8 campaign. “After much prayer, consideration and consultation,” Save Our Kids organizers wrote on their Web site, the group decided to “suspend the Save Our Kids campaign to allow our staff and supporters to dedicate themselves to the Marriage amendment (Proposition 8).”

“We were disgusted that a group like Focus on the Family would take people’s money and dump it into a campaign here in California to try to take rights away from people,” Jacobs said, although he tempered his disgust with delight at the layoffs that hit the ministry right after the election. “There is a decreasing market for hate,” he said, “and I think that’s what Focus on the Family is reaping right now.”

Focus on the Family announced on Nov. 17 that it planned to cut 202 jobs companywide, dropping the number of employees to about 950, The Colorado Independent reported. It was only the latest in a series of layoffs and cutbacks suffered by the Christian ministry, which also supports a massive CD, DVD, radio and Web-based enterprise. At its height, the organization, which has its own ZIP code in Colorado Springs, employed more than 1,500 people.

Michigan-based auto-parts heiress Elsa Prince — whose son, Erik Prince, is the founder and CEO of Blackwater Worldwide, the controversial private security firm with annual contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan worth an estimated $500 million — has been closely tied to Focus on the Family for decades. She and her late husband, Edgar, have been key benefactors to Focus and its lobbying arm, the Family Research Council, whose lavish headquarters was financed by Elsa as a memorial after her husband died.

“Anybody who is investing in Focus in the Family ought to understand it’s an investment in a losing organization,” Jacobs said. “In the course of time, they’ll become as extinct as the wooly mammoth.”

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About the Author

Ernest Luning


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