IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A conservative group that has brought a string of potential presidential candidates to Iowa to lecture about the need to reduce government spending owes some of its past success to generous federal grants, which it has since rejected amid charges of hypocrisy.

The Family Leader has organized multicity forums for Reps. Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Sen. Rick Santorum. Each has called for reining in federal spending and talked about family values.

The same group received more than half of its funding from federal grants over a five-year period when it operated under a different structure as The Iowa Family Policy Center. The group was among those that benefited from former President George Bush’s faith-based initiative, which made it easier for social and religious organizations involved in community work to win federal funding.

The organization defends taking the grants, the bulk of which helped provide marriage mentoring for couples, but decided last year to turn down the final $550,000 in grant money and operate free of government involvement. In all, the group had accepted more than $3 million in federal grants since 2004.

“We wanted to be consistent in calling for more efficient, smaller government and came to the conclusion that would best be served by not taking funding from the feds on this,” said group spokesman Chris Nitzschke.

The group in November changed its name to the Family Leader under a reorganization that put former Iowa Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats in charge. Its leaders played a key role in the successful campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices last year over a ruling that legalized gay marriage. The new group is now trying to flex its political muscle in the lead-up to the Iowa Caucuses in January.

Two more potential GOP nominees, former business executive Herman Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, are on the group’s calendar.

“We begin our pro-family policy agenda by cutting spending, and then we cut taxes,” Bachmann said at one event in April. In March, Paul told the group that society had grown too dependent on the federal government and “we’re at a point now where we can no longer afford it.” Pawlenty said in February that, to the extent government has to be involved in an issue, it must deliver good value for taxpayers.

Edward Failor Jr., the former president of Iowans for Tax Relief, criticized the group’s credibility on tax and spending issues during last year’s gubernatorial campaign because of the millions in federal aid. He praised its decision to reject the final year of the grant, saying that marriage mentoring is a service that churches and other groups can provide without government aid.

“I think they did it to be intellectually consistent and honest. Good for them for doing that,” Failor said. “As soon as you start taking money out of taxpayers’ pockets, you are beholden to the government in one way or another.”

Records show the policy center was awarded a five-year grant worth $550,000 per year from the Health and Human Services Department in 2006 to promote healthy marriages. The money went to a program it operates called Marriage Matters, which claims to have saved hundreds of marriages through its mentoring and counseling programs.

The policy center on Sept. 30 received its last $12,600 installment from the grant, which came from $150 million Congress set aside in 2005 to promote healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood. But as criticism of the group for receiving tax funds was mounting among both liberals and conservatives, Center President Chuck Hurley notified the federal agency in August the group was relinquishing the money and would operate with private funding.

Watchdogs, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, had questioned whether federal tax dollars were being spent to further a conservative religious agenda. One liberal activist had encouraged same-sex couples to seek counseling through the group to find out whether they would be served. Some conservatives, including members of the tea party, were critical of the group’s leaders for taking the federal money.

Nitzschke said the programming offered by Marriage Matters has been scaled back but some services are still being operated privately.

At the same time, he said the grant money was well spent, with more than 1,200 individuals receiving services every year. He said that none of the tax dollars went to fund anything religious or political in nature.

A 2008 audit by the Government Accountability Office faulted HHS for a lack of oversight in how the marriage and fatherhood grants that went to dozens of groups were awarded and managed.

The policy center’s tax disclosure for the one-year period through Sept. 30, 2009, the most recent available, shows it received $549,443 in government grants out of revenue just over $1 million. Nitzschke said the Marriage Matters program was directed by former center vice president Mike Hartwig, who earned part of his salary through the grant even as he was a prominent opponent of gay marriage. Hartwig called the 2009 ruling that legalized the practice in Iowa sickening.

Nitzschke said the bulk of the money was spent on contracts with individuals across the state to deliver services. At first he promised to release to The Associated Press annual audits of the grant money that he said found no problems, but he later reversed course and said the group considered that information private.

Randall Wilson, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa in Des Moines, said he wanted a more detailed accounting of how the money was spent and how much went to its administration. He questioned just how much mentoring the grant helped pay for, saying his group’s limited investigation of Marriage Matters found it gave out money to churches and to host some events for couples.

“The danger always is that federal taxpayer money gets diverted to advocacy causes. I think one could argue that not all taxpayers agree with Iowa Family Policy Center,” Wilson said. “That, of course, is a big concern of ours. The center was instrumental in removing three Iowa justices.”

In addition to the marriage grant, the policy center accepted $800,000 in 2005 to build its organizational capacity under the Compassion Capital Fund, a key part of Bush’s faith-based initiative. The group received $50,000 the previous year from a related federal grant program to promote marriage.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (33)
  1. GOPSUX says:

    GOP = dirty filth.

    1. Jason says:

      very insightful

  2. Jason says:

    Federal Government promoting healthy marriages goes against many of thier other programs. Government programs tend to cater to fatherless homes.

  3. Sarah in Outstate MN says:

    Wow. What a misleading headline. Not surprised though.

    Oh, and I don’t like either party.

  4. Kally says:

    We will never cut spending or reduce the debt because stuff like this will go on and on from both sides. Yes, just keep printing more money.. keep growing government, keep running up debt…

  5. Tom says:

    Not a huge surprise!

  6. Andy says:

    It looks like to me that, some Democrat is using the media to write a misleading story for personal political gain. Kally has a great point! These greedy politicians need some accountability.

  7. Patriot says:

    Once again some DemocRAT spreads filthy lies about patriotic Americans. What more proof do we need that the DFL and their fellow travelers need to be outlawed?

    1. WHAT????? says:

      If this story was just a bunch of lies, why would there be people that are involved with this that were saying they are not going to be taking the money anymore? Hard to read with blinders on huh? Why do people say “these are lies” whenever they see a story talking about the party they like yet when a story about the other side comes out they will jump all over it and make stuff up that was not even in the story? Sad that people follow a party and not a person. Open your eyes and maybe you can see that both parties have flaws and you would be idiotic to follow anyone because of a title and not actions. So with a name like Patriot maybe you should not follow Reps or Dems, but follow the politicians that are patriotic, or is that too intelligent for you to comprehend?

    2. Duh! says:

      If you have to call yourself a patriot, you aren’t one.

  8. Yelper says:

    Gotcha Republicans! 😉

    Your lies and ignorance EXpoSED!!!!

  9. Yelper says:

    Love how Republicans talk about “Family Values” but then go and cheat on their wives.

    Look at the Pig Gingrich….. a so called “Holy Man” but will be the first one with his pants down… Look how many times he has cheated on his wives’s.

    He makes John Edwards look like the Patrant Saint of Bonaficio!

    1. Rod-tea King says:

      WOW Yelper… make a point but then shoot it down bringing up John Edwards…..

      Last time I checked…was “Pig Gingrich” dieing?

      I would like to see a study done by the IRS……How man Republicans are behind on their taxes compared to the Dem’s!

      Dem’s have NO problem spending long as it’s not THEIRS!

      How does the joke go?

      “it was so cold out today….I actually saw YELPER with his hands in his OWN pockets”

      The state is in serious finacial trouble and all you Dem’s want to do is TAX more and not FIX the problem…..

      To me it’s no longer a dem vs rep issue….it’s a tax vs spend issue….

      I just want SOMEONE to work together to FIX this issue…..

  10. truth hurts says:

    This organization is in deep ass trouble:

    “The group in November changed its name to the Family Leader under a reorganization. At first (they) promised to release to The Associated Press annual audits of the grant money, but he later reversed course and said the group considered that information private.”

    Plain & simple; someone stole money from the general fund that was suppose to used for marriage mentoring. Instead huge piles of money went to speakers like Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and more. Also, federal funds went to “churches and to host some events for couples”.

    “We wanted to be consistent in calling for more efficient, smaller government and came to the conclusion that would best be served by not taking funding from the feds on this.”

    If we want more grant money, an audit will come our way and we are deep trouble because of mismanagement of previous funds. We are stealing from taxpayers without providing services to promised in the grant papers.

    The claim to have saved hundreds of marriages through its mentoring and counseling programs will need proof. However, we shipped that money to churches, and they aren’t keeping any records of how many people they helped with their marriages.

    “The policy center accepted $800,000 in 2005 to build its organizational capacity under the Compassion Capital Fund, a key part of Bush’s faith-based initiative.”

    THE USE:
    “The center was instrumental in removing three Iowa justices.”

    How did this help struggling couples with their marriages?

    Health and Human Services Department did not careful watch George Bush’s faith-based initiative and groups abused federal funds for personal and political gain. “Government Accountability Office faulted HHS for a lack of oversight in how the marriage and fatherhood grants that went to dozens of groups were awarded and managed.” This group is a prime example of abuse by private companies of federal funds.

  11. DanceBiscuit says:

    Patriot, because it’s a negative article against the GOP now all DFL’ers are liars and should be outlawed? What a bunch of crybaby diaperheads.

    1. Patriot says:

      And you’re one of their atheist socialist lapdogs, DanceBiscuit. Until you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, and renounce your treasonous ways, you cannot know the truth.

      1. WHAT????? says:

        Wow, not too hard to tell that Rusty changed his name to Patriot. All the talk of atheists gave it away. We all know you can change your screen name. That does not make you any more relevant or intelligent so maybe you should save your rants for the cult that you sound like you have always wanted to start. Is there a comet coming soon?

      2. Duh! says:

        Jesus was not a Christian.

  12. Swamp Rat says:

    Something smells politically fishy in Iowa? Sounds like this group got caught in the cookie jar of hypocrisy! Oh, well, what else is news in American politics?

  13. John @ Patriot says:

    And don’t forget “GAY”

  14. JB says:

    so only the democrats are allowed to dip their hand in the government cookie jar?

  15. Tea's take says:

    PLEASE GOP supporters….DO NOT fall into the same trap as the Dem’s that say “this is the GOP spreading lies”…because the GOP admitted to taking the that is a STUPID excuse that makes us lok as bad as the left….

    The bottom line is I agree with JB here….The Dem’s take money ALL the time…and that’s OK? Yet when the GOP takes tax $’s that = about $430k a year (A DROP IN THE BUCKETT!!!!!) they make a BIG deal of it?

    Bottom line…the story is SPUN to make the GOP look bad….$430k a year is NOTHING compared to the left’s usage of tax money on issues like this…..

    So I agree lefty’s…this does make the GOP look bad…no doubt there but before you make a BIG deal about this…let’s compare apples to apples…or in IA…Pork to Pork!!

    1. Patriot says:

      Don’t listen to the shill who pretends to be a Tea Party Patriot. He is a DFL plant perpetuating the lies of the liberal elitist medial. His treasonous filth is intended to disgrace the freedom loving patriots who struggle each day to save this Nation from atheistic socialism and the illegal alien Muslim negro traitor Obama.

      1. you question tea says:

        LOL….WOW! I think PARROT (head) fits you more than PATRIOT…..

        I admit I am more “center” than RIGHT……but I like a LOT of what the tea party has to say….I just wish it was done differently…..

        I like Bachman…..but I think her delivery is about as smooth as Paul Wellstone at a Texas Rangers Baseball game! So, I decide to slide more “center” then right! BIG DEAL!

        Patriot….If anything you are SUPPORTING this public health care issue as it’s CLEAR you don’t have medical insurance! If you did….you would be taking your pill and you wouldn’t sound like quite a NUT JOB!

  16. Duh! says:

    So Patriot is a racist pig also. This just keeps getting better and better!

    1. Patriot says:

      You’ll think diversity is a GREAT idea when the UN troops show up to drag you off to the FEMA concentration camps, Duh! The Tea Party stands against the secular humanists and international socialists and for the White Christians who made this country great.

      1. Duh! says:

        Really, Patriot. Get some help – your paranoia, jingoism ,racism and hate speech will only result in a large Black man throwing you off of a highway overpass to the cheering throngs of sane citizens.

        1. JB says:

          Dear Patriot and Duh, both of you get off of my side.

      2. WHAT????? says:

        Put down the “white power” reading material you have for a moment and look at your posts. Do you ever wonder why NOBODY ever backs up what you say? It is one thing to be a crusader for something that needs to be done, it is another thing to be completely delusional and to just spew hate and lies (which would be the path you have chosen). I would only hope that you are very old and not going to be around much longer and that you have not had children that you have given the monumentally wrong perspective that you display in your posts to. I would ask you to explain some of this and back up your posts, but that would be more painful as it still would not make sense and still be the ramblings of a very sad, angry, misinformed, obscene, and crazy bigot such as you are. Please stop trying to spread your hate as this is not what the world needs and go seek help. At least get a hug and go talk to a priest or something (I know, they would probably turn you in as well as you sound like a danger to society). The only other thing I can think of is that you are a sad little man that nobody likes and are taking your own anger out on the world as you feel you are not “good enough” for the rest of us (and are probably right on that). In any case WOW YOU ARE STUPID.

      3. Patriot, your kidding me? says:

        Did you know that the USA is 64% of the UN troops force? Then how would they drag us away as we have the largest stake in it? I do not get angry about posts on this page often, but I must say as a former service member that has seen some bad things in my day I find what you say very offensive and would like you to stop using that name to post with. I would also like to have some time to speak with you personally in a low lit area, but that is another story. I did not go through all I did and neither did the rest of the people that I served with to see people like you waste the freedoms that some of us have paid our lives for. You should be absolutely ashamed of your comments on this site and I understand why you post, cause if you said that in public you would be strung up. If you have any guts you would join in the military and then let’s see if you still rant like you are. I can tell you never did serve and this is why you feel safe and secure in saying these things. You have no idea of the cost that it takes for your stupid comments to even be allowed to be post. Hang your head in shame before some hangs it for real.

  17. GOPSUX says:

    Patriot is clearly a closet gay.

  18. Patriot says:

    So, there are American soldiers here? Are you Oath Keepers? If not, you are no better than the internationalist socialist masters you serve.

  19. Bob says:

    Like we don’t know that these far reich groups, republnuts like Bahcmann are hyprocites. Don’t us something we don’t all ready now.

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