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Focus on the Family: Funding Extremism Millions of Dollars at a Time

Amie Newman

The Super Bowl advertisement being funded and produced by Focus on the Family, using NFL player Tim Tebow and his mother Pam to highlight the beauty and importance of a woman being able to decide for herself whether she wants to carry a pregnancy to term or terminate  choosing to carry her pregnancy to term, has been discussed, dissected and critiqued enough, I realize. But in the back and forth about whether this is an issue of censorship by CBS (for refusing in both the past and the present to run advertisements from such progressive-minded groups like United Church of Christ,, a gay dating service, etc.) or an issue of injecting controversial commentary where it doesn't belong, one thing has been overlooked. 

Just how does Focus on the Family have almost $3 million to run a single television ad? And if women's health and rights organizations are so angry about it, why don't they just purchase air time on the public air waves for their own persuasive moment?

Here's what it comes down to. 

I would never, of course, ask an abortion fund or a women's health center to spend millions of dollars on an advertisement to highlight how critical reproductive rights are for women's autonomy in this country. Why? Because they need that money to fund actual health care for actual human beings. I realize this is a foreign concept to those who chose to contribute to anti-choice, anti-family, anti-woman groups like Focus on the Family but I can break it down further. 

FoF is an arm of an extraordinarily powerful media EMPIRE run by James Dobson which exists to essentially push propaganda, fund their lobbying and disseminate an anti-family, anti-woman agenda. At its core, FoF is a media ministry, in essence, spending millions upon millions each year to push anti-gay, anti-woman, and anti-family (except white, Christian, heterosexual ones) initiatives. You can read up on them on our site and Right Wing Watch has an excellent run-down of exactly what they do with their money. Their reason for being is basically zealotry and they have enormous sums of money to do that.

From Right Wing Watch:

According to Ministry Watch, Focus on the Family is the eighth largest ministry in terms of revenues in their database. FOF receives a substantial portion of its revenue from its countless resources, including book, periodical, CD, video, and magazine sales, as well as conference and retreat costs, yet still, in its 2004 990 form, declares $118,263,318 of grants, contributions and gifts received from donors. Focus on the Family's ownership of its land (it prefers to own rather than rent its space) and buildings add up to $48 million on its books, and in 2004 they cited the cost of upkeep and improvements on their property to be over $101.5 million.

There are so few extremist, conservative organizations that actually exist to provide non-biased, evidence-based, health care and social services for women, men and young people. Are there any? On the other hand, without individual progressives funding health care and other services for women (and men and young people) for places like Planned Parenthood, abortion funds, independent women's health centers, domestic violence shelters and more, we'd have far fewer health care and social serivce options available. So, while women's health advocates *are* donating multi-millions to ensure actual care, conservatives are donating money to produce slick, persuasive media.

Historically, more controversial issues have needed to be pushed almost entirely from the grassroots. No one "funded" the suffragist movement or the gay rights movement or the civil rights movement. We're fighting against a huge, well-funded patriarchal machine and unless and until we either a) elect more progressive representatives who actually are pro-choice or b) persuade some mega millionaires or venture capitalists that progressive media (like Air America, for instance) is worth funding, I'm not sure what we can do at the level of a Super Bowl Ad.

It is worth noting, of course, that this battleground over women's health and rights exists to the degree it does because abortion access is legal in this country. It is not entirely accessible. It is not always affordable. It is dampened, often times, by state laws that seek to do nothing more than obstruct, with the woman's well-being nowhere near a priority. But abortion is legal in the United States.

This kind of equity and justice is terrifying to extremist, conservative, Christian organizations like Focus on the Family.  It's so utterfly terrifying, in fact, that they are willing to spend millions of dollars on advertising to a mostly male audience about how critical it is that women's rights be obstructed and controlled by their agenda. 

The truth is Focus on the Family exists to produce slick propaganda and will pay millions of dollars to spread their gospel -  that's essentially why they exist. They don't care for the sick or ensure health care for those without health insurance (as Planned Parenthood and independent women's health centers do around the country).

On a final note, and this deserves investigation, while Focus on the Family does make a lot of its money from revenue from its own book, CD, and DVD sales (according to Right Wing Watch), it also receives millions in grants. Are there similar, well-positioned women's media organizations that are funded at similar levels? It is of course comparing apples to oranges as Focus on the Family is, at its core, a religious ministry and those who grant money to the organization may be donating more for FoF's religious-ness than its media empire. But with Air America gone, and women-led, women-focused media outlets like Ms. Magazine run by a non-profit, how do we level the playing field (or do we?). It's worth pondering. 

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Amie Newman is the Managing Editor for RH Reality Check.

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