A nonprofit group led by former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich channeled $125,000 through a hard-line anti-gay organization to support a 2010 campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices who voted to legalize same-sex marriage in that state, The Associated Press (AP) reported Tuesday. The donation to the American Family Association (AFA), which was designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) earlier this year, was part of a total of $350,000 Gingrich reportedly helped steer to Iowa for Freedom, which led the successful campaign against the justices, the only ones on the court who were up for reelection.
The SPLC lists AFA as a hate group principally because of its regular use of false propaganda to demonize gays and lesbians. Especially remarkable are the views expressed by Bryan Fischer, its shrill director of issue analysis for government and policy. Fischer has proposed criminalizing homosexual behavior, advocated forcing gays into “reparative” therapy, and claimed gays were responsible for the Holocaust. (For more on Fischer’s claims, click here, here, here and here.)
The story of Gingrich’s below-the-radar assistance to Iowa for Freedom started to dribble out on March 3, when The Los Angeles Times reported that Gingrich helped the organization get its start, offering strategic advice and arranging a $200,000 gift from an anonymous donor. The remaining $150,000, the AP reported, was raised in the form of donations to Renewing American Leadership (ReAL), a nonprofit group Gingrich founded that promotes his books, TV appearances, and films. It was ReAL Action, an arm of ReAL, that reportedly gave $125,000 of that $150,000 to AFA Action, the political wing of AFA. The final $25,000 was given by ReAL Action to Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. Both AFA Action and Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition then supported Iowa for Freedom’s efforts, the AP said.
The assistance turned out to be critical. The campaign to force the Iowa judges out “wouldn’t have happened without Newt,” David Lane, executive director of Iowa for Freedom, told the Los Angeles Times. “Newt provided strategic advice and the initial seed money, about $200,000, which is what got everything started.”
Gingrich, a twice-divorced man and recent convert to Catholicism not previously known for his commitment to evangelical issues, was vocal about his desire to see the three judges ousted. In August, he denounced them for “substituting their values for the values of Iowa voters” and exercising “dictatorial” power.
Gingrich’s ReAL Action gave the $150,000 to AFA and Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition in the form of “general purpose grants,” which were then used to aid the Iowa campaign, according to the news reports. Rick Tyler, ReAL’s founding director, told the Des Moines Register that the decision to funnel money through other nonprofits instead of giving it directly to Iowa for Freedom was based on lawyers’ advice about the legal requirement that, in order to retain its nonprofit status, ReAL avoid electoral politics. “We leave up to the groups receiving the money to determine how they would spend the money,” Tyler said.
It’s not clear if ReAL’s pass-through strategy is kosher. Marcus Owens, an attorney who led the IRS tax-exempt division for 10 years, told the AP: “It is not customary in the political world for large sums of money to shift hands without a clear objective. To give money unfettered to organizations that have announced they are going to be undertaking a recall effort is not going to protect you” from potential sanctions for electioneering, which most nonprofit groups are not allowed to do.
Gingrich founded ReAL about two years ago, shortly after remarrying and converting to Catholicism. ReAL’s mission is to “preserve America’s Judeo-Christian heritage by defending and promoting the three pillars of American civilization: freedom, faith and free markets.” Its small board of directors is packed with evangelical heavy-hitters, including chairman Jim Garlow, the San Diego pastor who helmed the 2008 campaign to pass Proposition 8, a ballot initiative to end same-sex marriage in California. (The measure is still tied up in the federal courts.) Also on the board is Vivian Berryhill, head of the National Coalition of Pastors’ Spouses.
But the most remarkable board member is self-described “historian” David Barton, a frequent guest of conspiracy-mongering Fox News host Glenn Beck. According to the Anti-Defamation League, Barton spoke twice during the early 1990s to adherents of the viciously racist and anti-Semitic theology known as Christian Identity.