Politically connected S.C. Family Research Council affiliate wishing, watching for policy changes
When South Carolina’s legislative session resumes in January (just before the state hosts the “First in the South” Republican presidential debate), one of the state’s influential conservative policy organizations, the Palmetto Family Council (PFC), has a spate of policy and legislative items it hopes the Legislature will either approve or reject.
In 2012, the Palmetto Family Council hopes to see passage of a variety of introduced legislation, including bills that would allow health-care professionals or entities to refuse to participate in a procedure that “violates the health care facility’s conscience”; would bar alcohol sales on Christmas and Thanksgiving, in addition to Sundays; and would end state recognition of “common law” marriage.
PFC is opposing bills that would allow retailers to conduct wine tastings, as well as a piece of dating-violence legislation — the objection to this bill is that “dating” would be considered a “family” relationship.
Other policy changes on Palmetto’s watch list have not yet been introduced into the Legislature. One such possibility is related to donor disclosures for 501(c)4 organizations: “Palmetto Family will be on watch for legislation that requires legislative action organizations like Palmetto Family Alliance to disclose its donors and open them to intimidation.”
Another not-yet-introduced bill that would please Palmetto, would increase funding in the state for abstinence-only education.
As The American Independent has previously reported, in recent years, the Palmetto Family Council, which is affiliated with the Family Research Council, received more than $1 million in federal grants to implement projects — that at times relied on inaccurate or misleading data — related to abstinence education and marriage, and the organization used letters of recommendation from state and federal legislators to bolster its grant applications.
From 2008 to 2009, PFC received approximately $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services’ Administration of Children & Families (ACF) to implement an abstinence-education social networking project, and in 2004, the organization received $50,000 from ACF to implement a marriage-counseling program. Both the Community Based Abstinence Education program and the Compassion Capital Fund, from which the respective grants derived, were George W. Bush-era grant projects that lost funding under the Obama administration. Health and Humans Services recently announced a grant pool for social values programs, but that effort is still in the application phase.
In applying for the abstinence-education grant, PFC included an endorsement letter co-signed by 15 state House representatives, including Reps. Jeff D. Duncan (R-District 15, Lauren & Newberry counties), Nathan Ballentine (R-District 71, Lexington & Richland counties), Eric Bedingfield (R-District 28, Greenville County), Chip Huggins (R-District 85, Lexington County), David R. Hiott (R-District 4, Pickens County), and another letter co-signed by eight state senators, including Sens. Michael L. Fair (R-District 6, Greenville County) and Ronnie W. Cromer (R-District 18, Lexington, Newberry & Saluda counties).
U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint and U.S. Reps. Joe Wilson, Bob Inglis and James Gresham Barrett each submitted individual letters of support. (Note: Inglis and Barrett no longer serve in Congress.)
Aside from local and national political leaders, PFC received letters of recommendation from Focus on the Family and local business owners, including Matt Thompson, who owns a Chick-Fil-A restaurant in Spartanburg, S.C. Obtained by TAI via a Freedom of Information Act request, Thompson’s letter, dated May 29, 2008, read, in part:
I am familiar with the fine work that PFC does in the Midlands and our state to encourage abstinence until marriage, healthy relationships, healthy marriages, and strong family values. Strong, healthy families have always been a goal for the Chick-Fil-A’s founder and affiliates. In 2006 our founder, Truett Cathy, was recognized for his work and donations to family-friendly organizations at the Smart Marriages National Conference in Atlanta. He was presented that Smart Marriages Impact award. Even more recently, Mr. Cathy received a presidential ward [sic] for his philanthropic work in support of marriage.
Thus it is only natural that Chick-Fil-A would be in support of Palmetto Family Council’s application to expand their work in abstinence and healthy marriages in South Carolina.
Thompson told TAI he does not remember sending that letter to ACF and that usually he does not use his business’s name when giving money or support to political or religious causes.
The year before Thompson’s endorsement, South Carolina had passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which PFC has taken credit for helping to pass. Chick-Fil-A founder and chairman S. Truett Cathy has received criticism from LGBT-rights groups for giving money and support to organizations that promote anti-gay messages and funding for anti-same-sex legislation — those groups include Focus on the Family, to which PFC is affiliated. An Equality Matters investigation conducted this year revealed that Chick-Fil-A’s charitable arm, WinShape Foundation, donated more than $1.1 million to organizations that included National Christian Foundation, Serving Marriages, Inc., the Alliance Defense Fund, the Georgia Family Council and the Family Research Council.