Focus on the Family

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Focus on the Family (FOF) is one of the largest right-wing Christian advocacy organizations in America, currently based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. FOF's website summarize's the organization's values stating "In short, Focus on the Family is a reflection of what we believe to be the recommendations of the Creator Himself, who ordained the family and gave it His blessing."[1] The organization has three related legal entities, all of which share the same address as FOF’s national headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Family Policy Alliance (FPA), a 501(c)(4), is the largest and most influential. Formerly known as CitizenLink and Focus on the Family Action, FPA has built an alliance of 40 “pro-family” organizations in 38 states that it can mobilize to influence legislation and support “social conservative candidates.”[2] The Family Policy Foundation (FPF) is a 501(c)(3) that is set up to be a “catalyst for unleashing biblical citizenship.” Part of this work to promote a biblical citizenry is done through its Statesmen Academy, where it trains candidates for political office. FOF also has a political action committee called the Family Policy PAC, although it is not very active. The PAC dispersed less than $6,000 during the 2016 election cycle.[3] FOF and its affiliates are major spenders influencing campaigns and political discourse. Between October 1, 2015 and September 30, 2016, FOF and affiliates have spent $93,411,876 according to IRS filings.[4]

News and Controversies

Politicizing the Courts

Focus on the Family and its affiliates have sought to remake the American judiciary and promote their religious agenda by opposing judges that do not adhere to a “strict constructionist” philosophy. The group consistently decries what it terms “judicial activism,” which are typically judicial decisions in favor marriage equality, privacy rights and various civil rights. FOF opposes merit selection of judges, in which courts are filled by a nonpartisan commission of lawyers and non-lawyers to locate, recruit, investigate, and evaluate applicants for judgeships. On its website, FOF states “judges, primarily un-elected officials appointed for life, are not accountable to the people for their actions and, thus, should not be allowed to legislate.”[5] Another tactic to remake the courts is ad campaigns and advocacy to oppose specific judges deemed too progressive in judicial retention elections. FOF often teams up with affiliate and allied organizations to remake the courts inline with right-wing religious philosophy. In recent years, FOF-allied organizations in the following states have worked to remake the structure and composition of the courts:

  • Alaska: Alaska Family Council
  • Arkansas: Arkansas Family Council
  • Florida: Florida Family Policy Council
  • Wisconsin: Wisconsin Family Council and Wisconsin Family Action

Registration as a Church

In February 2018, it was reported that Focus on the Family declared itself a church, thereby enjoying significant disclosure and filing advantages from the IRS. The non-profit social issues organization first filed as a church for the 2015 tax year. FOF’s 2015 990 tax form carried the message “Not required to file and not filed with the IRS. Not for public inspection.” Churches are not required to file 990 forms, but FOF posted their 990 form on their website and stated it was “pro-forma” and would also be distributed to donors. As of February 13, 2018, the IRS’s master database of tax-exempt organizations, last updated on February 13, also indicates that Focus is listed as a church that is not required to file a 990.[6] Gail Harmon, an attorney and expert on non-profit tax law stated that FOF’s registration as a church is shocking”, adding “There’s nothing about them that meets the traditional definition of what a church is,” she said. “They don’t have a congregation, they don’t have the rites of various parts of a person’s life. There’s a whole system for what a church is.”[6] Right Wing Watch reported that the IRS was initially skeptical that FOF should be classified as a church. However, FOF lawyers wrote to the IRS that their organization “meets most of the tax agency’s criteria for houses of worship and that even questioning their status as a church could violate the First Amendment.” FOF also asserted that the IRS would cause an “adverse impact” on their operations if they were not granted a number of religious exemptions. The exemptions affected regulations on retirement plans, employment taxes and employment benefits for fired employees, among other issues.[7]

Connection to James Bopp

Right-wing attorney James Bopp served as Special Counsel for Focus on the Family from 2004-2012. Bopp. During his career, Bopp has promoted the goals of the religious right by fighting restrictions on campaign spending, judicial selection laws, and ethics rules. Bopp has also spearheaded a string of cases challenging restrictions on judicial “speech,” and won a major victory in White v. Republican Party of Minnesota in 2002, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that state’s bar against judicial candidates announcing their views on legal and political issues.[8] Bopp’s goal is to pressure judges and candidates to go on the record on hot-button issues and so that religious and partisan conservatives can mobilize voters to hold them accountable to their ideological views.[9] A profile by The Daily Beast depicted Bopp’s pivotal role in the religious right’s efforts to undermine campaign finance regulation which culminated in the landmark Citizens United Supreme Court decision.[10]

Promoting Gay Conversion Therapy

For years, Focus on the Family has promoted homosexual “conversion therapy”, the widely discredited practice of attempting to change sexual orientation through psychological and/or medical means. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “Focus On The Family promotes the harmful and discredited practice of ‘conversion therapy,’ claiming ‘just as there are many paths that may lead a person to experience same-sex attractions, there are likewise multiple ways out.’ For years, they were behind Love Won Out, a national tour preaching that same-sex attraction is ‘preventable and treatable.’”[11] FOF tried to push back against claims of advocating conversion therapy. In a blog post, FOF president Jim Daly wrote, “We believe in empowering individuals for health and realistic living toward their goals. For some, this includes therapeutically investigating their sexuality and exploring faith-compatible responses for their individual situation.”[12]

Ties to the Koch Brothers

Focus on the Family affiliate Alaska Family Council used a database and data mining tool developed by and the Koch brothers to target voters for fundraising and advocacy on social issues. Known as Themis, the tool pulls together data from multiple sources, including marketing databases. It is estimated that the Kochs spent upwards of $50 million on the database. The Alaska Family Council is particularly close to Focus on the Family as its president Jim Minnery is a relative to Focus on the Family’s Senior Vice President Tom Minnery.[13] Financial support from the Koch network has been directed to FOF affiliate organization Citizenlink.[14]

Ties to the DeVos Family

According to the Gender Policy Report from the University of Minnesota, “from 1998 to 2010, Betsy DeVos and her family’s foundations donated millions of dollars to Focus on the Family.” These donations were critical in transforming FOF into the national level organization it is today with extensive media outreach and a large network of affiliated organizations.[15] Rich DeVos, cofounder of Amway, owner of the Orlando Magic, has been a prolific donor to Focus on the Family among other right-wing organizations. DeVos has also attended some of the Koch Summits hosted at luxury resorts to plot strategy and raise massive funds to fulfill their radical agenda.[16] FOF is a key vehicle for promoting the DeVoses’ anti-LGBT agenda. Along with the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, FOF receives funding from the DeVos family to promote anti-LGBT policies. FOF has received more than $800,000 from the DeVos foundations by the end of 2015. FOF used this money to advocate against same-sex marriage and civil unions in many states. The DeVoses have also sponsored conferences promoting “conversion therapy”, the same practice promoted by FOF’s Love Won Out campaign.[17] FOF is also a know When Betsy DeVos was nominated by Donald Trump as Secretary of Education, she faced questions about her parents’ foundation donations to Focus on the Family. The Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation, led by DeVos’ parents, donated atleast $5 million to FOF. Betsy DeVos had been listed as an officer of the foundation in tax filings since 1999. When pressed on this connection to the anti-LGBT and anti-choice group, DeVos dismissed her listing as an officer a “clerical error.” Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire found the scale of this clerical error “concerning” and criticized DeVos for her connection to FOF, a group which promotes “intolerance.”[18] FOF also posted a page on their website in support of Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as Education Secretary. The page states that it was Betsy DeVos’ “compassionate concern for the struggles of children like these that apparently inspired DeVos to become engaged in larger education efforts.” FOF goes on to describe her accomplishments, including serving as “Chair of the American Federation for Children, which advanced significant education reforms in several states, including Florida, Louisiana and Indiana, Founder, along with her husband, of one of Michigan’s most successful charter schools. She is also considered one of the key architects of Detroit’s charter-school system and a philanthropist, who has funded nationwide school-choice initiatives and education-reform organizations, as well as candidates who support school choice and charter schools.”[19]

History

Focus on the Family was founded by Dr. James Dobson, a psychologist, in September 1976 in California. The organization's first major activities were hosting radio broadcasts under the title "Let’s Get Acquainted.”[20] By 1980, the radio broadcasts became daily, appearing on over 200 stations across the country.[21]

In 1986, FOF began supporting crisis pregnancy centers with financial resources. Crisis pregnancy centers have since collected tax-payer money to discourage patients from abortion procedures and have screened their volunteers for adherence to Christianity.[22] One year later in 1987, FOF formed a board of physicians to advise the organization on medical issues called the Physicians Resource Council. Jim Daly, the current President and CEO, began work at FOF in 1989. By 1991, FOF began its transition from California to Colorado. Daly eventually took over the organization after it had fully transitioned to a Colorado headquarters in 2005.[21] FOF's use of radio has gradually transformed into use of various other forms media, including magazines, books and films, including documentaries like "Irreplaceable" which argues that deviation from a right-wing Christian family structure leads to the destruction of society.[23]

Funding

On their website, Focus on the Family claims that “87.5% of the money that supports family ministry comes from donors like you.”[24] According to Conservative Transparency, the largest donor to FOF (as of 2014) is the National Christian Charitable Foundation. From 2012 to 2014, the National Christian Charitable Foundation contributed $13.8 million to FOF.[25] The largest provider of donor-advised funds in America, the National Christian Charitable Foundation actively supports the establishment of “Crisis Pregnancy Centers,” which seek to steer women away from abortions, and which have been criticized for their misleading advertising.[26] Another major donor is the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation / DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative. Between 1998 and 2013, Conservative Transparency recorded at least $6.69 million in donations to Focus on the Family. This is addition to $275,000 donated by the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation.[25]

Core Financials

2016

  • Total Revenue: $93,476,684
  • Total Expenses: $90,546,228
  • Net Assets: $54,158,519[27]

2015

  • Total Revenue: $88,548,388
  • Total Expenses: $89,139,982
  • Net Assets: $51,228,063[27]

2014

  • Total Revenue: $89,465,000
  • Total Expenses: $90,019,000
  • Net Assets: $51,819,000[28]

Personnel

As of June 27, 2018:[29][30]

Executive Leadership

  • Dr. James Dobson, Founder and Chairman Emeritus
  • Jim Daly, President and CEO
  • Joel Vaughan, Chief of Staff
  • Ken Windebank, COO
  • Dan Mellema, CFO/Treasurer
  • Bob Wood, CIO

Board of Directors

  • Greg King, Chairman
  • Robert E. Hamby, CPA
  • Rick S. Lytle, Ph.D.
  • Christine Arnzen
  • James Dewitt
  • Marcus Smith
  • Patricia Esser
  • Lee B. Torrence
  • Ken Fentress, Ph.D.
  • Deryck Van Rensberg

Contact Information

Focus on the Family
8605 Explorer Drive.
Colorado Springs, CO 80920-1051
Telephone: 1-800-232-6459
Email: Help@FocusontheFamily.com
Website: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/

Articles and Resources

IRS Form 990 Filings

2014

2013

Reports

Conquering the Courts


Related PR Watch Articles

External Resources

References

  1. Focus on the Family, Foundational Values, accessed July 2, 2018.
  2. Family Policy Alliance, About Us, accessed June 14, 2018.
  3. Family Policy PAC, 279041514289.pdf#navpanes=0, FEC Form 3X, January 27, 2017.
  4. Arn Pearson, Conquering the Courts The Religious Right’s Fight to Rig the Rules and Undermine Judicial Independence, “Center for Media and Democracy”, May 2018.
  5. Focus on the Family Issue Analysts, Judicial Philosophy: Talking Points, “Focus on the Family”, accessed June 14, 2018.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Miranda Blue, Focus On The Family Has Declared Itself A Church, Avoiding IRS Disclosure Rules, “Right Wing Watch”, February 20, 2018.
  7. Miranda Blue, Here’s How Focus On The Family Convinced The IRS To Call It A Church, “Right Wing Watch”, April 17, 2018.
  8. National Center for State Courts, Case-law Following Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, accessed June 14, 2018.
  9. Arn Pearson, Conquering the Courts The Religious Right’s Fight to Rig the Rules and Undermine Judicial Independence, “Center for Media and Democracy”, May 2018.
  10. Jay Michaelson, The Christian Right Mastermind Behind Citizens United Says It’s Good for Democracy, “The Daily Beast”, June 5, 2016.
  11. Human Rights Campaign, 10 Things You Should Know About Focus On The Family, accessed June 18, 2018.
  12. Jim Daly, Does Focus on the Family Promote “Gay Conversion Therapy”?, “Focus on the Family”, March 21, 2018.
  13. Zach Roberts, Right-Wing “Nonprofit” Religious Groups and Koch Brothers Team Up to Target Voters, “Truthout”, October 24, 2012.
  14. Paul Blumenthal, [ https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/23/koch-brothers-gay-marriage_n_6035958.html Koch Brothers Fund Group That Contradicts Their Ideology In 2014 Election Push], “Huffington Post”, October 23, 2014.
  15. Susan B. Ridgely, Betsy DeVos, Focus on the Family, and our Public Schools, “The Gender Policy Report”, February 6, 2017.
  16. Michael Mechanic, Spying on the Koch Brothers, “Mother Jones”, December 2011.
  17. Jonathon Orta, The Koch-Like Family You’ve Never Heard of Influencing State Legislatures, “Political Research Associates”, December 22, 2015.
  18. Dan Merica, Aaron Kessler and Sara Ganim, Betsy DeVos' 'clerical error' dates back to nearly two decades, “January 18, 2017.
  19. Focus on the Family Issue Analysts, Elisabeth "Betsy" DeVos, “Focus on the Family”, accessed June 18, 2018.
  20. The Gazette, Focus on the Family history: It started in California with James Dobson, March 27, 2017.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Focus on the Family, Historical Timeline, accessed July 3, 2018.
  22. Sofia Resnick, Taxpayer-Funded Crisis Pregnancy Centers Using Religion To Oppose Abortion, "Huffington Post", April 24,2012.
  23. Focus on the Family, Is Focus on the Family’s “Irreplaceable” Documentary Too Controversial for Theaters?, April 22, 2014.
  24. Focus on the Family, Financial Accountability, accessed June 21, 2018.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Conservative Transparency, Focus on the Family, accessed June 21, 2018.
  26. Joan Shipps, The National Christian Foundation Is a Top Backer of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, “Inside Philanthropy”, June 16, 2015.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Focus on the Family, 2016 Annual Report, accessed June 24, 2018.
  28. Focus on the Family, 2015 Annual Report, accessed June 24, 2018.
  29. Focus on the Family, About Focus on the Family, accessed June 27, 2018.
  30. Focus on the Family, 2017 Annual Report, accessed July 11, 2018.