How the Pennsylvania Family Institute plans to “ignite” change in Pennsylvania

Over the past few days, bloggers have taken note of a piece by Andy Birkey in The American Independent describing a carefully planned campaign by “Family Policy Councils” in now Republican controlled states.  Essentially, an infusion of cash from an unidentified source will fund a three prong approach:

Each family policy council has a three-prong plan to achieve their legislative goals over the next two years: lobbying for legislation, mobilizing pastors and social conservatives and supporting candidates that have backed their initiatives. Each group has used a stock brochure containing nearly identical wording to explain their plan and to solicit funds. In many cases, an Ignite plan was launched with an anonymous matching-grant donor.

Here in Pennsylvania, the policy council is part of the Pennsylvania Family Institute founded in 1989 and is affiliated with the national Focus on the Family organization. The mission of PFI

The Mission of the Pennsylvania Family Institute is to strengthen families by restoring to public life the traditional, foundational principles and values essential for the well-being of society. We are a research and education organization devoted to restoring these values to our state and nation. We produce policy reports, promote responsible citizenship and work to promote unity among pro-family groups.

Birkey claims

Focus on the Family says that while the groups are “fully associated” with FoF, they “are independent entities with no corporate or financial relationship to each other or to Focus on the Family.”

This quasi-relationship issue is nothing new to PFI which made headlines earlier in the year by partnering with Chick-Fil-A to sponsor a marriage workshop in Central PA, a workshop that fits smack into the larger context of the IGNITE plan.  While Chick-Fil-A denied formal affiliations with anti-marriage groups, the blog Good As You found close ties between the company's philanthropic wing and organizations such as the National Organizations for Marriage.

Chick-Fil-A corporate has tried to parse the situation so as to create a wall between their investment of “marriage strengthening resources” and their desire to sell you a chicken sandwich without judgment.  It is artifice at its most dangerous because most people still think they were simply donating a few chicken sandwiches to a local church event.

My suspicions were raised when PFI announced that their annual dinner would take place in Cranberry Township, an affluent suburb about 40 minutes north of Pittsburgh.  Cranberry is home to Pennsylvania State Representative Darryl Metcalfe, a tea partish uber-conservative with a long history of anti-gay initiatives.  Metcalfe is also chair of the powerful State Government Committee and recently introduced legislation to pass a Marriage Amendment in PA.  The most recent attempts to write bigotry into our Constitution were rebuffed (2008 and 2010) at the committee level.  Metcalfe's current's chairmanship coupled with a newly elected Republican Governor and shifts in the composition of the Legislature make this battle more threatening. 

Things just seem a little too cosy. 

Getting back to Ignite, PFI's annual operating budget averages $1.4 million yet they plan to spend $1.5 million over the next 18 months.  In December 2010, they announced a matching pledge drive to raise $7500 which Birkey says was successful, but the source of the matching funds remains anonymous. Coupled with similar grants around the country, the numbers start to really add up.  Where is this money coming from?  These groups aren't saving that much by scraping up chicken sandwich donations, my friends.

The plan itself is somewhat uniform. 

 Each family policy council has a three-prong plan to achieve their legislative goals over the next two years: lobbying for legislation, mobilizing pastors and social conservatives and supporting candidates that have backed their initiatives

Here's a little more detailed glimpse into what PFI has in mind . (Click on image for larger view)

Full brochure is attached below.

Plans include marriage seminars, supporting legislators that promote their agendas and concerted focus on choice and the marriage amendment. 

PFI has launched the marriage workshops, invited anti-choice darling Lila Rose to be their keynote speaker, hosted a large event in Metcalfe's backyard and got a seed grant of $7500 from an anonymous source.  There's a plan at work here and one that potentially involves the investment of millions. The plan is in motion and the Marriage Amendment is just one strand. 

There's a pattern amidst these threads … Metcalfe, Cranberry, Chick-Fil-A, Winshape Foundation (Chick-Fil-A foundation), the Cathy family which owns Chick-Fil-A.  Is the Winshape Foundation and their larger partners behind the donations?  Is Metcalfe one of the “statesmen” PFI lauds in their brochure? 

I hope progressives continue to dig.  Chick-Fil-A went on a PR frenzy to convince you to keep buying chicken sandwiches and milkshakes and waffle fries.  If there's more to that particular relationship, we need to know.

The money came from somewhere and isn't limited to Pennsylvania.  Birkey's piece details goings on in South Dakota, West Virginia, Indiana, Louisiana, Arizona and Florida. 

The source of these anonymous seed grants matters, but the bigger issue is the fact that our opponents are in the trenches and they are well funded on multiple fronts.  The current PFI blog posts focus on school choice and abortion.  These are hot topics in the Corbett Administration. 

It also illustrates the need to build coalitions and pool our resources.  When I read that PFI plans to target half a million on three issues, one of which is the marriage amendment, I believe we need to broaden the scope of our own individual agendas.  Destroying the public school system, for example, will not be good for children in LGBTQ families and/or children who identify as LGBTQ. 

Please continue to pay attention.  Elections are right around the corner and you can make an impact by electing (or retaining) progressive women and men.  We need to support the attacks on labor, public education, health care, reproductive justice as vigilantly as we defend our community.  Finally, we need to pay attention to the well-laid plans of those who would deny us our freedom and liberties. 

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