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Kayla Gogarty

Author ››› Kayla Gogarty
  • Arizonans have unwittingly given anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom over $1 million

    As local and national media shine a spotlight on an Arizona law directing specialty license plate fees to ADF, the extreme anti-LGBTQ group went straight to a friendly right-wing media platform

    Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    A recent open records request revealed that the state of Arizona has quietly given extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) more than $1 million over the last 6 years through sales of the state’s “In God We Trust” specialty license plates.

    The plates were created in 2008 to fund state highways and road maintenance, but state legislators amended the original law in 2011 to send donations to the then-unnamed nonprofit that paid to design the specialty plate -- which newly released public records revealed to be ADF. Two of the legislators who sponsored bills amending the law were previously represented by ADF in court.

    Local and national media have shined a spotlight on the funding after advocacy organizations uncovered the story, but ADF went to right-wing PJ Media to defend itself without explaining the lack of transparency around the practice.

    Open records request reveals that ADF has raised over $1 million dollars from the sale of “In God We Trust” license plates in Arizona

    According to a PinkNews report, a public records request found that ADF has received over $1 million from the sale of nearly 60,000 “In God We Trust” license plates “without being disclosed to people who buy the license plates.”

    The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) lists the specific recipient or cause for dozens of specialty license plates available to Arizona drivers, but it does not disclose ADF as the recipient for donations from the “In God We Trust” plates. Instead, ADOT’s ServiceArizona website states that donations from the sale of the specialty plates go “to promote the national motto ‘In God We Trust,’ 1st amendment rights and the heritage of this state and nation.” But data obtained through an open records request by the Secular Coalition for Arizona and American Atheists indicate that ADF has been the recipient for the last six years. These groups have launched a campaign to raise awareness of ADF’s involvement and to give Arizonans the opportunity to report if they have inadvertently donated to ADF.

    Arizona is one of at least 20 states with the option to purchase a specialty license plate with the motto “In God We Trust,” and Mississippi included the motto on the state’s regular license plates beginning last month. This is part of a broader state-level strategy known as “Project Blitz” that seeks to advance anti-LGBTQ policies by introducing dozens of seemingly innocuous state-level bills, such as those that publicize the “In God We Trust” motto, alongside more extreme measures.

    Other states also donate a portion of the fees from sales of “In God We Trust” license plates to nonprofit organizations, but unlike Arizona, those states do note the specific beneficiaries. For example, Texas license plate donations go to the Texas Veterans Commission, and Florida plate sales benefit the In God We Trust Foundation. However, even these seemingly transparent donation policies can hide ties to extreme anti-LGBTQ groups -- the advisory council of the In God We Trust Foundation includes the Florida Family Policy Council, which is headed by ADF allied attorney John Stemberger.

    ADF is one of the largest and most powerful anti-LGBTQ groups in the nation. The legal powerhouse has taken dozens of extreme anti-LGBTQ positions, such as supporting Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, defending the discredited and dangerous practice of conversion therapy, advocating against adoption and foster care by LGBTQ people, and supporting policies that ban trans people from using facilities that align with their gender identity. The group operates with an extreme lack of transparency, particularly regarding its network of over 3,300 allied attorneys, who often do not publicly identify their affiliation with ADF. ADF also has alumni and allies in influential government positions across the country, including state attorneys general and their staffs.

    Two Arizona legislators who sponsored bills amending the law to benefit ADF were also previously represented in court by ADF

    When Arizona created “In God We Trust” plates in 2008, the legislation specified that $17 from sales of each plate that did not go to administrative fees “would go not to a particular group but to the state highway fund to build and maintain roads,” according to the Arizona Daily Sun. In 2011, however, the state legislature passed three bills that included amendments to the law that allow the plate’s financial sponsor to receive those donations instead of the state highway fund. As the recently released documents revealed, that beneficiary is ADF.

    Arizona state Sen. Linda Gray sponsored two of the bills including language amending the previous law to direct funds to ADF, and Rep. Nancy Barto was listed as a sponsor of the third. Before sponsoring these bills, both Republican legislators were ADF clients in lawsuits involving a 2009 law that made it harder to receive an abortion in the state.

    ADF turned to right-wing outlet PJ Media to claim it welcomes transparency despite accepting these hidden donations for over 6 years

    In response to media coverage of Arizonans unwittingly donating to ADF through license plate sales, the group turned to right-wing outlet PJ Media to present its side of the controversy. PJ Media’s coverage has been friendly to ADF in the past, and ADF has given the outlet exclusive quotes on other issues as well.

    PJ Media claimed that “ADF may welcome the transparency” but is opposed to legislation that would prevent ADF from receiving donations from the plate. Additionally, ADF’s remarks to PJ Media seemed to focus on its designation as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center rather than addressing any of the group’s discriminatory anti-LGBTQ positions or why it was never publicly listed as the beneficiary of donations from the plates. ADF did not appear open to transparency during the six years it was secretly receiving money from the program.

    Right-wing evangelical outlet CBN News used the story to push the false premise that LGBTQ people and Christians are at odds with one another, calling it “the latest salvo of the culture wars pitting the LGBTQ community against Christians.” The post described ADF as “a group that advocates for religious freedom in the courts, and Christians are frequently the targets of LGBTQ activists in those cases.”

    Pitting religious people against LGBTQ folk is a false dichotomy, as a majority of religious groups believe that homosexuality “should be accepted.” Similarly, many religious Arizonans who have bought an “In God We Trust” license plate likely would not support ADF’s extreme anti-LGBTQ agenda. In fact, nearly 1,300 individual leaders from various faiths signed on to an amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission against ADF’s client Jack Phillips, a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The brief argued that public accommodation laws should protect LGBTQ people and “be applied on the basis of religiously neutral principles of equal protection under the law.

    Some religious leaders in Arizona have already started speaking out after learning that ADF benefited from sales of the license plates, including David Felten, a pastor at Fountain Hill United Methodist Church:

    This is not just an abstract violation of church-state separation. It’s a very real rejection of Arizona’s LGBTQ people by the very government that is supposed to impartially support and protect all of its citizens.

    As part of the campaign by Secular Coalition for Arizona and American Atheists, Arizonans can report if they inadvertently donated to ADF through the program but do not support its agenda. Additionally, Democratic state Sen. Juan Mendez has proposed one bill that would “require ADOT to more fully disclose where the money from specialty plates goes” and another bill that would “eliminate the ADF plate.”

    Additional research by Brennan Suen

  • New Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson has been tied to anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom for decades

    Clarkson was co-counsel on an ADF case up until he was nominated for attorney general

    Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Alaska laws protect less than half of the state’s LGBTQ population from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in “private employment, housing, and public accommodations,” and Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s recent appointment of Attorney General Kevin Clarkson puts LGBTQ Alaskans at even greater risk. Clarkson has a long history of advocating against LGBTQ rights and nondiscrimination policies in Alaska, and he has spent more than two decades working alongside extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

    Dunleavy appointed Clarkson as the state’s new attorney general on December 5. Clarkson was previously a senior attorney for the law firm Brena, Bell & Clarkson, and he worked directly alongside ADF in a case representing a women’s homeless shelter in Anchorage, AK, that is suing to be exempt from the city’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policy after it refused to house a homeless transgender woman. Clarkson withdrew from the case on December 6 after being appointed the state’s attorney general.

    ADF is one of the largest and most powerful anti-LGBTQ groups in the nation and has played a role in over 50 Supreme Court decisions, including on cases regarding abortion, religion, tuition tax credits, and LGBTQ issues. The legal powerhouse has taken dozens of extreme anti-LGBTQ positions, such as supporting Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, defending the discredited and dangerous practice of conversion therapy, advocating against adoption and foster care by LGBTQ people, and supporting policies that ban trans people from using facilities that align with their gender identity.

    ADF has identified Clarkson as an allied attorney, and his history with the extreme anti-LGBTQ organization spans more than 20 years. ADF has alumni and allies in influential government positions across the country, including in other state attorneys general offices. It is crucial for reporters to include this context when discussing the Anchorage shelter case, or reporting on any other LGBTQ-related matters Clarkson might be involved in as attorney general.

    Clarkson was co-counsel on an anti-trans ADF case up until he was appointed attorney general

    ADF is representing the Hope Center, also known as the Downtown Soup Kitchen, in its ongoing case, The Downtown Soup Kitchen d/b/a Downtown Hope Center v. Municipality of Anchorage. ADF sued the city of Anchorage in August “to stop it from applying a gender identity law to the Hope Center shelter, which denied entry to a transgender woman” in 2018. The city’s trans-inclusive policy was put to a vote in April, but Anchorage voters upheld the protections and “soundly rejected” the ballot measure that sought to repeal them.

    Clarkson served as the Hope Center's local counsel, alongside ADF, from the start of the case in early 2018 until he withdrew on December 6, the day after he was appointed attorney general. The Hope Center’s case was heard by the U.S. District Court on January 11, and ADF is also pushing several other license-to-discriminate cases through the courts.

    Clarkson has a history with ADF dating back to 1997

    In 1997, Clarkson attended ADF’s National Litigation Academy (now known as ADF Academy), a program that trained “attorneys to battle the radical homosexual legal agenda, defend parental rights, uphold the sanctity of human life, and protect religious freedom.” ADF has described the program as “all-expense-paid classes” in exchange for lawyers providing “450 dedicated pro bono hours on matters related to ADF issues.” ADF has identified Clarkson as one of its more than 3,300 allied attorneys, who must agree to a "statement of faith" which claims that “homosexual behavior … and acting upon any disagreement with one’s biological sex” are “sinful and offensive to God.”

    Clarkson has also served as local counsel alongside or with the help of ADF on several other cases in Alaska since 1999. In addition to his role in the Hope Center case, Clarkson has served as co-counsel with ADF on a case defending a law that required abortion providers to notify the parents of minors; received training and funding from ADF for a 1998 case regarding a ballot measure attempting “to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman”; received funding and legal support from ADF in a 2005 case regarding benefits for government employees in same-sex relationships; and represented two churches in a 2008 case about a “property tax exemption for religious schools.”

    In fact, Clarkson has provided ADF with more than 10,000 hours of pro bono or dedicated service, which ADF calls “the equivalent of nearly five years of legal assistance, offered at no cost to clients.” Clarkson’s extensive work on behalf of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group has earned him ADF’s “Silent Watch” and “Gold Service” awards.

    As attorney general, Clarkson has broad powers and represents the state on all legal matters

    Many state attorneys general have gained power in the last decade as they used litigation to shape policymaking, which The Washington Post has noted “raises concerns because much of it occurs well outside of the public view.” Alaska’s attorney general has broad powers to advise the governor and represent the state in legal matters, “including the furnishing of written legal opinions to the governor, the legislature, and all state officers and departments.” In 2017, former independent Gov. Bill Walker used one such legal opinion from then-Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth to establish his administration’s position on tribal recognition and sovereignty, demonstrating how attorneys general can provide a “legal framework” for state governments to act.

    As attorney general, Clarkson can also support and defend anti-LGBTQ bills. Attorneys general in other states, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, have previously weighed in on LGBTQ issues. Paxton has supported Texas’ anti-LGBTQ “bathroom bill,” sued -- alongside 10 other states -- the Obama administration over its guidelines protecting trans students, and filed legal briefs in support of the Trump-Pence administration’s discriminatory position against trans-inclusive bathroom policies. Another reported ADF allied attorney who became a state’s attorney general, Montana’s Timothy Fox, also has a history of using his office to fight against LGBTQ rights.

    With Clarkson’s appointment to Alaska attorney general, ADF has only expanded its influence over policymaking and the broader fight against LGBTQ equality.

  • These national anti-LGBTQ groups are working to make anti-trans discrimination legal in Massachusetts

    ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY

    National anti-LGBTQ groups are aligned with and have worked alongside a campaign in Massachusetts that would repeal the state’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, which protect transgender people from discrimination in housing and the workplace and give them equal access to public facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. The anti-trans Keep MA Safe campaign was started by Massachusetts Family Institute, a state anti-LGBTQ group with direct ties to major national groups Family Policy Alliance, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Family Research Council.

  • Alliance Defending Freedom has lost its latest effort in a decade-long battle to prohibit marriage equality in Romania’s constitution

    The massive anti-LGBTQ organization has been working to push its goals internationally, including in Romania, where same-sex partners already cannot marry

    Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY & BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A Romanian referendum that would have amended the country’s constitution to define marriage as “between a man and a woman” failed this past weekend after it did not receive the 30 percent turnout required to be valid. Influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) worked extensively in favor of the referendum and has been actively working against marriage equality in Romania for more than a decade.

    Though the referendum failed to draw more than roughly 20 percent of voters, the BBC reported that polls taken before the vote “indicated support for the change was as high as 90%.” Romanian LGBTQ advocates successfully urged their supporters to boycott the polls to invalidate the vote, even though the government took the “unusual step” of extending the referendum to two days at a cost of $46 million.

    This was not the first campaign against marriage equality in Romania. The Los Angeles Times reported that Peter Costea of Coalition for Family, the Romanian organization “leading the charge on the referendum,” first pushed to change the country’s constitution 13 years ago by working with “local Christian groups.” The Times continued, “This time, he’s backed by far more firepower. Costea turned to the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based association that has emerged as an influential legal force for the American religious right — part of a larger pattern of conservative evangelical and other Christian groups finding fertile new ground for pressing an agenda against marriage between same-sex partners.”

    But Costea has actually worked with ADF for more than a decade. He is listed as one of its 3,200 allied attorneys, and Costea and ADF “provided instrumental legal counsel to Romanian Parliament” regarding a civil code enacted in 2009 that defined marriage as between “man and woman.” It does appear, however, that Trump’s election was a catalyst for their latest push, as the Times wrote:

    Within days of Trump’s election victory, the Coalition for Families was “contacted by higher-ups in the Romanian government to say that things had changed in Romania because things had changed in the White House,” Costea said. They promised to help jump-start the referendum campaign, he said.

    To that end, the Alliance Defending Freedom has held conferences and run an informational campaign backing the Coalition of Families to promote the Romanian measure. Along with Liberty Counsel, it also submitted friend-of-the-court memos to Romania’s Constitutional Court.

    Alliance Defending Freedom has worked on anti-LGBTQ measures in Romania for more than a decade

    Over the last two years, ADF worked extensively to boost Romania’s anti-LGBTQ referendum from its initial petition to the final vote. In July 2016, ADF International filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the Romanian Constitutional Court in support of the referendum, and ADF co-hosted a conference with the Coalition for Family at the Romanian Parliament in Bucharest in 2017. ADF continued advocating for the constitutional amendment through social media posts, news releases, videos, official reports, and analysis. In a related event, ADF also submitted an intervention in 2017 to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against a gay Romanian and American married couple who were fighting for their right to live together in Romania. The ECJ ultimately backed the legal residency for same-sex couples under the definition of “spouse,” which was the language the 2018 referendum attempted to amend. According to the Los Angeles Times, U.S. groups including ADF have aligned with Eastern European conservatives because their ideology “meshes perfectly with the goals of Christian conservatives in the U.S.”

    Additionally, a 2012 book by Duquesne University political science professor Clifford Bob detailed work by ADF and Costea in Romania a decade ago that has striking similarities to their most recent work together, demonstrating that the alliance between ADF and Eastern European conservatives is not new. According to the book, ADF became involved in the Romanian marriage debate a decade ago after Costea contacted the extreme anti-LGBTQ group for legal help with his first campaign to amend Romania’s constitution to define marriage as “between a man and a woman.” Bob wrote that Romanian religious groups “had gathered the necessary signatures for validation by the Romanian Constitutional Court” by December 2006, and Costea “engineered the filing of amicus curiae briefs, a tactic unprecedented in Romanian jurisprudence,” to bolster the petition. According to the book, ADF “reviewed Costea’s brief and filed its own.”

    After the petition “failed to meet the Constitution's geographic distribution requirement for citizen initiatives” and thus did not make it to a referendum, Costea set up a formal organization, the Alliance of Romania’s Families (ARF), which he said was “absolutely” modeled on anti-LGBTQ groups “Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, [and] ADF.” ADF helped launch ARF, and former ADF chief counsel Benjamin Bull said ADF worked to “shape and define the organization.” ADF also sponsored Costea’s attendance “at one of its multiday, all-expenses-paid National Litigation Academies.”

    According to Bob’s book, ADF offered “to assist any government in defending its marriage laws” when ARF began its first campaign, in 2008, to amend Romania’s family code “with a defense of marriage provision similar to those in the United States.” That year, ADF provided legal arguments defending the amendment, and its ally the World Congress of Families (WCF) sent a petition signed by anti-LGBTQ leaders from across the world, including ADF’s Glen Lavy, to the Romanian Parliament. In 2009, “ARF worked with ADF and Romanian legislators to draft defense of marriage language even broader than the recent amendment,” resulting in a bill that prohibited same-sex adoption and refused to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other countries. When the bill passed, ADF hailed Parliament’s decision and noted that it had provided “legal counsel to several prominent Romanian parliamentarians” who introduced and helped pass the policies.

    Other anti-LGBTQ groups in the U.S. have worked against marriage equality in Romania

    Other U.S.-based extreme anti-LGBTQ groups also assisted with Romania’s referendum, including Liberty Counsel and the World Congress of Families (WCF). Liberty Counsel lawyer Harry Mihet and client Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who made national headlines after refusing to sign same-sex marriage licenses, traveled around Romania for nine days to support the referendum. They held conferences in Romania’s largest cities; met with archbishops of the Romanian Orthodox Church and members of Parliament; and appeared together in TV and radio interviews. The day before the 2018 vote, Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver discussed the impact the trip had on the referendum in a podcast. Prior to the group’s campaigning trip, Liberty Counsel also provided legal support in an amicus brief to the Romanian Constitutional Court.

    WCF, which sent the 2008 petition against marriage equality in Romania, invited a member of the Coalition for Family to speak about the importance of the referendum at its 2017 conference in Budapest. WCF also used social media to encourage Romanians to vote in support of the referendum, with WCF President Brian Brown actively posting his support on Twitter. Additionally, CitizenGo, a campaign linked to WCF, posted a video in April in support of amending the Romanian constitution.

    Though anti-LGBTQ groups failed in their latest effort to further marginalize LGBTQ Romanians, the country’s LGBTQ residents still do not have the right to marry, while LGBTQ people across Eastern Europe are regularly detained, prevented from peacefully organizing, tortured, and even killed. Yet anti-LGBTQ groups in American ignore these human rights atrocities and continue to target the community, helping contribute to the culture of fear that LGBTQ Eastern Europeans face every day.