August 23, 2012 at 9:34 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Family Research Council remains in federal charity program
Tony Perkins, Family Research Council, gay news, Washington Blade

The Family Research Council, led by Tony Perkins, is part of the Combined Federal Campaign, which facilitates donations made by federal employees to charitable groups. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management has declined a request that it expel the anti-gay groups Family Research Council and American Family Association from a federal employee charitable giving program known as the Combined Federal Campaign or CFC.

OPM, which is headed by John Berry, an out gay man, responded to a request for the ouster of the two groups from the CFC by senior federal employee Gary Cunningham and other federal employees. Cunningham argued in a posting on the CFC’s Facebook page that the two organizations are designated as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a national civil rights organization.

“That basically means that the federal government is assisting hate groups with obtaining donations,” Cunningham said in his posting. “If you think this is outrageous, like I do, PLEASE write CFC and OPM and tell them to take them off.”

In a reply on the same Facebook page, OPM states, “All charities included in the CFC National Capital Area are vetted and approved by OPM. Each Charity must meet the federally-mandated requirements of the CFC.”

The OPM statement, which doesn’t identify the person posting it, adds, “The ideology of a charity is not considered. No federal tax dollars are provided to any charity through the CFC. Donors can select which CFC charities they wish to contribute to and exclude charities they do not want to support.”

Cunningham, joined by several other federal workers, made the request for removing the Family Research Council and the American Family Association from the CFC on grounds that the organizations were listed as hate groups at least two weeks before Herndon, Va., resident Floyd Lee Corkins II allegedly shot a security guard on Aug. 15 in the lobby of the Family Research Council building in downtown D.C.

D.C. police and the FBI said Corkins shouted words to the effect of “I don’t like your politics” seconds before shooting the guard in the arm, inflicting a non-life-threatening wound. Authorities said the guard wrestled the gun from Corkins, preventing him from gaining access to the upper floors, where he may have intended to kill FRC employees.

The following day, FRC director Tony Perkins accused the Southern Poverty Law Center of giving someone like Corkins a “license” to unleash a violent attack against FRC by improperly designating FRC and other organizations as hate groups.

Perkins’ comments triggered a national debate over whether organizations such as FRC should be designated as hate groups based on disagreements over their positions on public policy issues without evidence that they may be promoting or encouraging violence.

A Southern Poverty Law Center official strongly disputed Perkins’ accusation that the group created a climate that prompted Corkins to commit a violent act, saying the group has denounced violence throughout its 40 years of civil rights activism.

The Southern Poverty Law Center official said it designated FRC as a hate group not because of the positions it holds on issues, including its opposition to same-sex marriage, but because it relentlessly defames LGBT people by releasing false or misleading information that, among other things, links homosexuality to pedophilia.

With that as a backdrop, the request by Cunningham and other federal workers that OPM drop organizations listed as hate groups from the Combined Federal Campaign appeared to take on a greater significance.

The CFC bills itself on its website as the world’s largest charitable giving program. It says that in 2010 federal workers donated more than $281.5 million to charitable organizations in the U.S. and abroad. A federal advisory committee reviewing the CFC this year reports that in more than 50 years since the CFC was created, federal employees donated more than $7 billion to thousands of national and local charitable groups.

CFC rules posted on its website state that the main eligibility requirement for a group to become part of the CFC is it must first obtain a tax-exempt status from the IRS known as a 501 (c) (3) charity. Other requirements include certain financial accountability standards to ensure that most of the organization’s revenue obtained by donations goes to a charitable cause rather than to salaries and overhead expenses. Groups admitted to the CFC must also file an annual IRS 990 financial disclosure form that is available for public inspection.

“OPM does not consider a charitable organization’s political activity or viewpoint when making eligibility determinations,” said OPM spokesperson Brittney Manchester. “Giving to charities through the CFC is a matter of personal choice for federal employees, who have the option to ensure that their contributions go only to the specific charities they designate.”

Manchester said Family Research Council and American Family Association have participated in the CFC since 2004. She said OPM Director Berry, who took office in 2009, does not sign off on organizations approved for the CFC.

Leonard Hirsch, president of Federal GLOBE, an LGBT federal workers group, said he agrees with the OPM decision against expelling FRC and the American Family Association from the CFC.

“The rules of CFC, which protect the freedom of speech of any group, are also what protect LGBT groups for coming in,” Hirsch told the Blade.

According to Hirsch, LGBT charitable groups faced some opposition when they initially applied for and later were admitted into the CFC more than a decade ago.

“As much as I respect the Southern Poverty Law Center, and I do enormously, I’m not certain that they should be a screen through which a program like this is put,” Hirsch said. “While they have designated these groups as hate groups that is not the federal designation.”

Added Hirsch, “So do I like it that certain groups are there? No, and there are a whole number of groups that get money from the CFC that I don’t like. However, I support their right within the rules and the guidelines to be there.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, wrote in a commentary in the Washington Post on Tuesday that the designation of the Family Research Council as a hate group is justified. Griffin said FRC’s long history of “claiming the mantle of ‘deeply held religious beliefs’” to propagate “lies that denigrate an entire group of people” supports the designation as a hate group.

However, a source familiar with HRC said HRC would not support expelling FRC and other groups from the CFC “because of the implications that it could have for pro-LGBT organizations in an unfriendly administration.”

Among the LGBT advocacy organizations participating in the CFC are Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD); International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission; Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN); Immigration Equality; National Center for Lesbian Rights; and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

Conservative religious-oriented advocacy groups participating in the CFC that oppose LGBT rights, in addition to the Family Research Council and American Family Association, include the 700 Club; Alliance Defense Fund; and Focus on the Family.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • It’s just over ten weeks before an incredibly significant national election. So it’s not hard to see why OPM may be distracted– appearing to jump through every hoop necessary to publicly deny what is obvious to casual observers.

    The federal government should not be in the business of providing and facilitating fund-raising support for hate groups.

    So OPM needs to promptly establish reasonably tough, defensible standards that prevent participants of CFC– especially those with a past history of doing so– from publicly demonizing and denigrating whole classes of people protected by civil rights laws– both local, and now, federal. If such standards are well-crafted, civil rights groups (e.g., HRC) should have no problem defending their CFC status before unfriendly administrations in the future.

    Hopefully, that should not take OPM longer than, say… about 90 days to accomplish.

  • Those that argue that the FRC or AFA shouldn’t be part of the program are wrong. The CFC is simply a mechanism for federal employees to give THEIR own money via payroll deduction. Unlike private companies, there is no matching gift program… So no tax dollars are going directly to the FRC. Rather than dwelling on the hate label (well deserved though it is), why not start pouring over the 990’s, etc? That’s how Porno Pete’s AFT org lost their 501c3 status.

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