Not so says U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak
By Anne Stanton
Pure unadulterated bullshit.
Thats how Rep. Bart Stupak, the normally amicable U.S. Congressman from Menominee, angrily responded to accusations made last week about his relationship with the Family.
And Stupak clearly doesnt like the guy making the accusationsJeff Sharlet, who wrote the book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.
On November 24, Sharlet spoke on NPRs Fresh Air Show about the Fellowship Foundation, or whats also called the Family, a secret, evangelical group that works with politicians and powerbrokers to promote an ultra-conservative Christian agenda. He pulled Stupak into the interview because of his recent anti-abortion amendment, which he co-sponsored with Rep. Joe Pitts, a core Family member, Sharlet said.
The philosophy of the Family is to gather the worlds most powerful people and get their hearts right with God. In turn, theyll do the will of Jesus and thereby help the worlds underlings. Its been called trickle-down fundamentalism, Sharlet said.
The problem is, the will of Jesus is open to interpretation.
The Familys philosophy is anti-gay, pro-celibacy, anti-business regulation (under the assumption that Christians running a business will naturally do the right thing), and anti-governmentFamily members believe in privatizing nearly every government function, according to Sharlets book.
Sharlet alleges on the NPR show about the Familys financial ties to an organization that supports a newly-proposed law in Uganda that calls for the execution of homosexuals in certain scenarios, such as a gay man having sex with a disabled person (presumably both men would be executed) or having sex when alcohol is involved. The law would also imprison someone for three years for failing to notify the government of a known homosexual.
Since 2002, the media has at least twice questioned Stupak about his relationship with the Family.
Thats because Stupak, a former state trooper, has rented a room in a palatial C Street rowhouse, which is owned by Youth With a Mission, a sister organization to the Fellowship Foundation.
Stupak was angry and frustrated about Expresss questions about his involvement with the Family. He questioned whether the Family even existed. He said hes never investigated who owned the house despite the national publicity, including a 2002 Los Angeles Times article, a June 26, 2009 Washington Post article about the house, and the release of Sharlets book. Stupak said he simply makes out his $600 check each month to C Street.
I dont believe the Family exists, Stupak said in a phone interview. Is there an international foundation? Do I know about them? Not really. A foundation owns it, why should I question it? If my landlord is a double ax murderer does that reflect on me? How does this influence me? You are one of the few people who has ever asked.
The Family and the C Street house bubbled into public consciousness in June with the scandals of conservative Christians Nebraskan Senator John Ensign, who lived in the house, and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, a frequent visitor.
Ensign, who lived at C Street, was having an affair with Cindy Hampton, his campaign treasurer, and also the wife of his best friend and top aide, Doug Hampton.
In a Nightline interview, cuckolded husband Doug Hampton said he tried to work through this messy affair with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who also lives at the C Street house. Hampton said in an interview that Coburn encouraged him to focus on forgiveness.
[The people at C Street] think the consequences (of an affair) dont apply, a disappointed Hampton told ABC Newss Nightline. Those need to be dealt with differently. Because of the responsibility. Because of pressure. Because of the work that needs to be done... This is about preserving John, preserving the Republican Party; this is about preserving C Street. These men care about themselves and their own political careers, period.
Also in June, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford admitted to an affair with an Argentine woman. He said that the C Street group was counseling him and his wife about their marriage.
The spotlight on Stupak has intensified after teaming with Republican Rep. Joe Pitts to insert an anti-abortion amendment into the health reform bill. Pitts has a long and deep relationship with the Family, Sharlet said in the NPR interview.
Stupak might have thought hed get a different reception to his amendment, since it was credited in some circles for getting the health care reform bill approved by the House.
Instead, hes become the target of outrage, public demonstrations, and a torrent of angry fund-raising emails. Women, not sure what to do with your body? Rep. Bart Stupak will tell you, said an online banner ad of boldprogressives.org.
The Stupak-Pitts amendment bans insurance companies from covering abortion for anyone receiving a federal subsidy under the proposed health care plan. The amendment isnt included in the Senate plan.
Stupak contended that his amendment is simply consistent with the 1976 Hyde amendment, which bans federal money being spent on abortions, with certain exceptions. Polls show that the majority of Americans agree that federal funds should not be used to fund abortions, he said.
But pro-choice activists are outraged, speculating that insurance companies, once enmeshed with the federal government, will likely remove abortion coverage from all health care policies, subsidized or not, for the sake of convenience and cost.
Last week, Sharlet, talked with Gross about Stupak and his anti-abortion amendment.
Well, Bart Stupak is an interesting Democrat from Northern Michigan, and heconservative in some ways, not as conservative in other ways, but on these family issues, he is, Sharlet told Terry Gross in an NPR interview. Hes been living at what the Family calls their C Street House on Capitol Hill at least since 2002, when he told the Los Angeles Times (which) was investigating the Familyhe told them that he would not talk to the press about the house. That it was sort of secret.
When I was living with The Family, which is sort of how I came to this whole story is by sort of reporting from within the group, Stupak was spoken of quite often as an ally of Joe Pitts; these are two guys who work well together, and as a guy who was a mentor to a lot of younger members of the Family.
Sharlet lived in Ivanwald, one of the Family residences for a month, as part of his book research. Sharlet said he learned firsthand at Ivanwald that Stupak was a mentor to a lot of younger members of the Family.
Tell me who I am a mentor to, Stupak retorted. This is ridiculous. Did I know some of the people who lived at Ivanwald? Does that make me a mentor if I answer questions for someone? If someone asks me a question and I answer it, does that make me a mentor? These things are outrageous and rather ridiculous.
Sharlet told Gross that another Stupak-Pitts collaboration goes back a few years, when they tried to amend President Bushs PEPFAR anti-AIDS - $15 billion anti-AIDS plan.
Stupak and Pitts thought that Bushs plan was not conservative enough. So they tried to turn it into a kind of an abstinence crusade overseas, and especially in Africa. And I think they actually went too far even for the Bush administration.
Stupak said that there was no truth in Sharlets statement. I never worked on it with him. Thats completely false.
Sharlet also stated in a November 10 Salon.com article that Stupak is a member of the Family and lumped him together with faith-based Democrats who are anti-choice and anti-gay.
Stupak denied that he is a Family member, and that his voting record clearly shows that he is neither anti-gay nor anti-union. The Familyif it even existshas never influenced his pro-life stancehes taken that position since he began his political career, he said.
Suddenly, there is this conspiracy that we are trying to take over the world with this theocracy. In that case, they havent been doing a good job. Pitts and I arent boozing buddies. I havent been out socially with Joe Pitts. The reason why we ran the amendment together is were on the same committee. Did you ever stop to think about that?
The bad light of C Street isnt something the owner did; its because the members of Congress violated their moral standings. Its the hypocrisy of certain members and, because I ran an amendment, now theyre vilifying meme and Joe Pitts have a secret agenda! It has nothing to do with my work or my amendment. Look it, Joe Pitts is a member of Congress, I know him. If hes involved with this Family as Sharlet claims hes been since the 1970s, how is it reflective of me?
Stupak said he has never talked to Pitts about the Familyif it exists.
Sharlet is not convinced. He didnt respond to an email asking for an interview, but heres what he had to say in a taped interview with Alex Jones.
Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan has been living for seven years in this house run by the Family, getting subsidized rent which is a gift, which he should have been reporting, which he hasnt. In an interview with Michigan papers about this, he said, Gee, I didnt know. Ive just been walking by these foreign policy meetings in my dining room, accepted this cheap rent, and I never bothered to ask questions. Its just not plausible to say that he didnt know at this point.
At least five Congressmen live at the house on 133 C St. SE, according to a June 26, 2009 Washington Post story.
Other politicians come to the house for group spirituality sessions, prayer meetings or to simply share their troubles. People familiar with the house say the downstairs is generally used for meals and prayer meetings. Volunteers help facilitate prayer meetings, they said. The houses residents mostly adhere to a code of silence about the place, seldom discussing it publicly, lending an aura of mystery to what happens inside and a hint of conspiratorial speculation.
The row house is registered as a church and has its own chapel, along with the rooms it rents. The Foundations 990 tax return forms indicate the very function of the C Street House, and other homes in the Washington D.C area is to provide lodging for people in the Familys ministry, wrote Bruce Wilson, on the talk2action.org website.
So according to the Fellowship Foundations tax returns, the man who inserted the Stupak-Pitts amendment into the House health care bill is a minister in the Family, Wilson wrote.
MUMS THE WORD
Stupak was first questioned about the C Street house in a 9/27/2002 Los Angeles Times investigative article.
We sort of dont talk to the press about the house, he responded. Stupak said his comment came after 9/11, when House members were urged not to talk about where they lived for security reasons.
Stupak said there are no prayer meetings held in the house, although the residents do get together for a weekly dinner.
The tax-exempt status of the $1.8 million church became an issue last summer. Beginning August 1, 66% part of the home used for renting rooms went taxable, reported the Washington Post two weeks ago.
There have also been questions raised about the cheap rent of $600 for a house that includes 12 bedrooms, nine bathrooms, five living rooms (including one with a big-screen TV), four dining rooms, three offices, a kitchen--and a small chapel. Does this amount to a political campaign contribution by a group that seeks to influence politicians and policy? Stupak, who doesnt report the discounted rent as a contribution, said that a 2003 finding by Common Cause said that there was nothing amiss.
Stupak has also taken leadership roles in the weekly House prayer group, as well as the National Prayer Breakfast, the Familys only public event. About 3,500 people attend the event from around the world, and its been credited for giving leaders from poor countries a rare opportunity to talk with powerful politicians.
According to a 990 Form filed by the Fellowship Foundations in 2001, the The Foundation helps facilitate the National Prayer Breakfast held annually in Washington, DC, widely attended by business, political and spiritual leaders from around the world. This event is held in conjunction with the U.S. House and Senate Prayer groups.
Stupak said that if the Family coordinates the prayer groups, its news to him. He thought President Eisenhower originated it. The president and thousands of others attend the National Prayer Breakfast every year.
If you believe Sharlet, every past president is part of the Family. Were all part of this big Family. Thats how ludicrous these things are. Its good to sell books. This stuff theyre doing, the secret thing with the family is pure unadulterated bullshit. There is no other way to say it. (The prayer breakfast) is on C-SPAN every year.
A CHANGE IN TONE
Concerned that the interview was based on the Family nickname of the group, the Express sent a follow-up email to clarify the legal name of the organization, The Fellowship Foundation. The Express also sent along the online website address for the Billy Graham Center which outlines the Fellowships history and legal status.
Stupak called again and said he regretted the tone of the first interview. He said he believes the Fellowship does exist, and allowed for its connection with the National Prayer Breakfast. But he is not a member of the group and added that he and other Democrats no longer feel comfortable living at the C Street house.
When [Senator Tom] Colburn, (and other) Republicans say something stupid in their crazy conservative ways, it always reflects back on the Democrats living there. Weve been there for 10 years, but the last six months its been a nightmare.
One of Stupaks staffers, Michelle Begnoche, sent this email to further clarify things:
While he acknowledges the Fellowship Foundation, this notion of the The Family that Jeff Sharlet is peddling is of his own creation and all the talk of it is coming from one source onlyJeff Sharlet himself.
While Sharlet may use the Fellowship Foundation as the basis for (his book) The Family, the congressmans acknowledgement of the foundation is not an acknowledgment of Sharlets version of The Family.