The executive director of this year’s World Congress of Families (WCF), which meets this week in Salt Lake City, has said that despite organization’s efforts to oppose LGBT rights around the world, opposition to same-sex marriage “has never been an emphasis” of the gathering. But opposition to marriage equality is a major priority of one foundation that appears to be a major financial backer of the Utah conference.
Although the WCF is a project of the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, this year’s event is being organized by the Utah-based Sutherland Institute, and a donation page for the event directs contributions to the institute. The institute has also apparently been soliciting funds specifically for the World Congress of Families event, with the Michigan-based Earhart Foundation giving it $20,000 last year earmarked for the conference.
While we won’t have further information on the funding of the event until this year’s tax forms are filed, the Sutherland Institute has at least until recently been supported largely by one Utah family’s charitable foundation.
The GFC Foundation (it stands for God, Family and Country) is run by Sutherland Institute’s chairman and interim president Stan Swim, whose father — the Sutherland Institute’s founder — and grandfather were also Utah-based philanthropists. Swim serves on the WCF’s board of directors and signed the deal to host the upcoming conference. Swim’s foundation has helped to fund previous World Congresses in Warsaw and Amsterdam. In the five years from 2009 through 2013, the most recent for which tax documents are available, GFC contributed $392,500 directly to the Howard Center.
GFC is a major funder of the Sutherland Institute, and the two organizations share some leadership. In addition to Swim’s dual roles, Sutherland Institute’s former president Paul Mero has long served on the foundation’s board. In 2011, the foundation provided almost half of the institute’s $1.3 million in revenue; in 2012, it provided over half of the $1.4 million that the institute brought in. In 2013, GFC nearly doubled its contribution to Sutherland, giving the organization $1.2 million, making up the bulk of the grants it distributed that year. The institute’s 2013 tax documents are not yet publicly available, so it’s unclear what portion of the organization’s budget GFC’s grant represented.
The Sutherland Institute has also been a top beneficiary of the Foundation for the American West, another charitable group established by the Swim family, which in turn receives substantial yearly contributions from the GFC Foundation. The GFC Foundation contributed about $1.2 million to the Foundation for the American West from 2009 through 2013; the Foundation for the American West contributed roughly the same amount to the Sutherland Institute during that time.
Along with funding the Sutherland Institute, the GFC Foundation appears to be directly involved in organizing this week's conference: A recent WCF newsletter instructed organizations wanting to exhibit at the Salt Lake City event to contact a GFC events staffer.
Although the Sutherland Institute is the primary beneficiary of the GFC Foundation’s largesse, the other social conservative causes that the foundation backs provide further hints about its ideology. Along with regular contributions to Mormon educational institutions and to Utah cultural programs, the GFC Foundation has been a major contributor to groups fighting marriage equality.
From 2011 through 2013, the foundation contributed $270,000 to the National Organization for Marriage as it attempted to fight back the gradual march toward marriage equality in the states. During that time, it also contributed $150,000 to the Ruth Institute, which was then a program affiliated with NOM. It also contributed $150,000 to the Marriage Law Foundation, which is run by a top Sutherland Institute staffer, making up about 60 percent of that organization’s budget.
Notably, the GFC Foundation has helped to fund some of the social science research that is being used to argue against marriage equality. In 2013, the foundation contributed $30,000 to the Institute for Family Studies, the think tank run by conservative family scholar Brad Wilcox and $7,500 to the Austin Institute, the think tank run by Mark Regnerus. Regnerus’ 2012 study of gay parenting, in which Wilcox played a key role, has been used by activists around the world to push back against gay rights, despite the fact that it has been exposed as severely flawed. GFC has also given five-figure grants to Wilcox’s Ridge Foundation and the Witherspoon Institute, which helped to fund Regnerus’ study. (Regnerus and Wilcox will both, incidentally, be speaking at this week’s event.)
The GFC Foundation has also been a major backer of the Utah Eagle Forum, the state affiliate of Phyllis Schlafly’s organization, led by the irrepressibly anti-gay Gayle Ruzicka. The foundation contributed $10,000 to Ruzicka’s group in 2013 and $20,000 each year in 2009 and 2010. In the intervening years, whether by coincidence or not, the Swim-affiliated Foundation for the American West filled the gap, giving Utah Eagle Forum $20,000 each in 2011 and 2012.
The GFC Foundation’s apparent work through the Sutherland Institute to host the World Congress of Families fits neatly into this pattern of funding the fight against advances in LGBT rights.