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Wade Horn: The Marrying Man
HHS marriage maven promotes Bush Administration's
Marriage Initiative

by Bill Berkowitz
February 20, 2005

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If you like the way Wade Horn is doing business with right wing pundits, in the words of Al Jolson, the popular singer of the 1920s, “You ain't seen nothing yet!” In late-December, the Washington Times reported that in addition to his hefty responsibilities as the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families in the Administration for Children and Families, at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Horn will now be in charge of drumming up support for, and doling out grants to, abstinence-only sexual education programs.

Recent headlines about Horn's work have focused on revelations that syndicated newspaper columnists Mike McManus and Maggie Gallagher had joined conservative commentator Armstrong Williams as part of a loose coalition of the shilling; right wing pundits receiving government money to support Bush Administration policies. In early January, USA Today revealed that Williams, a prominent African American radio and television personality, had received $240,000 from the Department of Education -- through a contract with the Ketchum public relations firm -- for his support for the president's No Child Left Behind project.

Mike McManus and Maggie Gallagher received their checks from the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote the President's healthy marriages initiative.

Paid to promote marriage

Wade Horn has been in the marriage promotion business for quite some time. He is a co-founder and former president of the National Fatherhood Initiative which, according to its Web site, made its national debut in March 1994 with Don Eberly -- a former White House advisor and civil society scholar who served as Deputy Assistant to the President for the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives -- serving as President, Horn as Director, and David Blankenhorn as Chairman of the Board of Directors.

McManus, whose column, “Ethics & Religion,” appears in 50 newspapers, was given $4,000 by the department. In addition, according to USA Today, Marriage Savers, a Potomac, Maryland-based non-profit organization founded by McManus in 1996, also received $49,000 “from a group that receives HHS money to promote marriage to unwed couples who are having children.”

The McManus revelations came on the heels of a Washington Post story that pointed out that Gallagher, now president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, had been paid $21,500 by HHS to promote marriage. The IMPP was founded in 2003 to provide “research and public education on ways that law and public policy can strengthen marriage as a social institution.”

After the Gallagher story broke, Wade Horn stepped up and denied Gallagher had been paid to promote the initiative in her columns.

According to, “In 2002, Gallagher contributed to an essay promoting marriage” that appeared in Crisis magazine, a conservative Catholic magazine, under Horn's byline. The article cited figures from the book “The Case for Marriage” (Doubleday, 2001), which Gallagher co-authored, MediaMatters For America recently reported.

In a column following the revelation, Gallagher apologized to her readers, saying she was not paid to promote marriage but “to produce particular research and writing products” -- articles, brochures, and presentations. “My lifelong experience in marriage research, public education and advocacy is the reason HHS hired me,” she wrote.

Gallagher added that it never crossed her mind to tell readers that she had worked for the Bush Administration. “I should have disclosed a government contract when I later wrote about the Bush marriage initiative. I would have, if I had remembered it. My apologies to my readers.”

“We hired her because of her expertise in the area of marriage research in order to draw upon that expertise to help us develop materials related to healthy marriage,” Horn said, pointing out that Gallagher had drafted brochures and helped draft the article published under his name.

“At no time was she paid to go outside of HHS and promote the president's healthy marriage initiative,” he said. “The federal government hires experts all of the time. There's nothing insidious about that.”

“This wasn't the first time Gallagher got a grant that involved federal funds. In 2001, she received $20,000 from the National Fatherhood Initiative and produced a report on the institution of marriage," The Nashua Telegraph recently reported. “The National Fatherhood Initiative paid for the report using money it received from the Department of Justice.”

According to USA Today, on several occasions Mike McManus had written supportively of the marriage initiative in his column since he began receiving government money in 2003. USA Today also reported that Horn, the official who manages McManus’ contract with the agency, was quoted in at least three of the columns. It was also noted that Horn was a former member of the Marriage Savers board of directors.

On Friday, January 28, Salon's Eric Boehlert reported that McManus “was paid approximately $10,000 for his work as a subcontractor to the Lewin Group, a health care consultancy hired by HHS to implement the Community Healthy Marriage Initiative, which encourages communities to combat divorce through education and counseling.” According to Boehlert, “McManus provided training during two-day conferences in Chattanooga, Tenn., and also made presentations at HHS-sponsored conferences.”

Horn later “announced...that HHS would institute a new policy that forbids the agency from hiring any outside expert or consultant who has any working affiliation with the media. ‘I needed to draw this bright line,’ Horn told Salon. ‘The policy is being implemented and we're moving forward.’”

What about trying to stabilize and support the institution of marriage? Given the high divorce rates across the country, many people see this as a laudable goal. In January 2004, however, the editorial board of The Stanford Daily enumerated several of the problems inherent in Bush's marriage promotion initiative:

First, while there is evidence that two-parent households benefit children, there is little empirical data on what sort of programs work to either promote marriage in the first place or to hold marriages together during troubled times. Beside the lack of proven efficacy and economic efficiency, there is also the dilemma of government being involved, even in a tangential way, in such a personal decision as marriage. There are so many considerations that go into a decision such as this one. For the Bush administration to issue a blanket encouragement of marriage is troublesome both in the fact that government should not be making “moral” decisions for people and in the fact that marriage may not be the best decision for all couples. Women's groups especially have been quick to point to the danger that such programs will push women into marriages that are abusive.

The final problem with Bush's plan to promote marriage is that it does not consider all the possible options to reach its goals. If Bush's goal truly is to make more stable, loving homes for children, he would not exclude gay couples from this drive for marriage. Bush is pushing the sanctity of family, mostly as a boon for children, yet is also advocating denying a sizeable portion of the population the right to become a family. While promoting functional marriages and families is an admirable idea, the Bush plan for doing this is both ineffective and outside the realm of appropriate government action.

According to a People for the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) report, Horn, who joined the administration in July 2001, believes that “when the government provides benefits via programs such as Head Start, public housing or job training, preference should be given to ‘two-parent married households.’”


Background: At the time of Horn's confirmation hearings, 100 women's organizations signed on to a letter written by the New York-based NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, opposing his confirmation. The letter charged Horn with wanting “the government to promote marriage by penalizing families where the parents divorce, separate, or do not marry. He also wants the government to tell unmarried women to surrender their children for adoption. There is very little ‘support’ for families in these sentiments.” Although the committee ignored the letter, its characterization of Horn appears to be on the mark.


Horn has also served on the Board of Directors of the Independent Women's Forum, an anti-feminist organization that the PFAWF report described as opposing “gender equity programs like Title IX and the Violence against Women Act.”


According to a Horn bio posted at the HHS Web site, ACF's programs include Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, foster care, adoption assistance, family preservation and support, Head Start, child care, child support enforcement, runaway and homeless youth, low income home energy assistance, community services, refugee resettlement, mental retardation and developmental disabilities, and community services.


Faith-Based Fudging


In a story that hasn't received nearly as much media attention as it deserves, Horn was forced to confront a recent ruling by US District Court Judge John Shabaz about MentorKids USA, a prison mentoring program in Arizona. The program had been receiving faith-based money and according to Judge Shabaz, it had violated the First Amendment prohibition against the promotion of religion.


Before the judge’s ruling, HHS argued that the issue was moot and the suit should be dismissed because it had already turned off the funding spigot to MentorKids USA. Despite the request, the judge ruled on the suit that had been filed by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. In fact, by the time the grant had been cut off, MentorKids had already pocketed $175,000 of the $225,000 three-year grant it had been promised in 2003.


Judge Shabaz cited a 2003 memo to case managers written by MentorKids President John Gibson, which said that the program's mission statement was to “locate, train and empower mentors to be the presence of Christ to kids facing tough life challenges through one-on-one relationships.” “Similar messages ‘permeate’ the program's Web site and board minutes, the decision stated,” the Madison, WI-based Capital Times reported.


Annie Laurie Gaylor, a spokesperson for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said that an HHS spokesperson told her that "it was up to watchdog groups... to monitor the activities of groups getting federal funding." That, Gaylor pointed out, essentially means that "the government has no guidelines in place or desire to monitor these groups."


Horn's response: The Associated Press reported that he said that the agency was "reviewing whether it can resume the grant should MentorKids USA show it can separate its religious and secular work."


Horning in on abstinence-only grants


And, in late December, the Sun Myung Moon Unification Church-owned Washington Times reported that “the nation's two largest abstinence-grant programs [were moved] to a new -- and friendlier -- agency within the Department of Health and Human Services.” The ACF, run by Horn, “recently received oversight of the $50 million Title V and $104 million community-based abstinence-education grant programs.”


“Wade Horn's leadership and commitment to abstinence will be a tremendous benefit to abstinence education,” said Bruce Cook, founder of Choosing the Best abstinence program. He “will do a wonderful job of promoting the [abstinence] message with the passion and commitment it deserves,” said Libby Gray, director of the Project Reality abstinence group in Glenview, Ill.


In an interview, Horn claimed that HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson moved the abstinence programs so they could be integrated into “the broader positive youth-development perspective that we have been pursuing here at ACF.” Sexual abstinence “is the only 100 percent effective way” for a teen to avoid becoming a parent or getting a sexually transmitted disease. Therefore, he said, “The goal is to find the most effective strategies to help young people make that choice.”


Finding an effective program is not as easy as it might seem. Recently, several abstinence-only sex education programs came under fire from Congressman Henry Waxman, who released a report detailing how these programs are often riddled with disinformation and misinformation.

In the midst of the crisis, President Bush ordered his Cabinet secretaries not to hire columnists to promote their agendas. But, now that Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and Mike McManus have been flushed out as shills for the administration, isn't it reasonable to think that there may be other conservatives out there mucking around in the media-scape? Congressional Democrats are calling on the congressional General Government Accountability Office to investigate this possibility.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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