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Gianforte Family Foundation giving and related campaign comments

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Montana's Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education John Cech announces a $500,000 gift from the Gianforte Family Foundation to the Student Assistance Foundation on Dec. 18, 2015 at Helena College. The gift will create the Ginaforte Manufacturing Scholarship for students who enroll in manufacturing and energy industry programs at two-year colleges in Montana.

A review of 990PF forms filed to the IRS from 2005 to 2013 shows the pattern of giving from the Gianforte Family Foundation. Although recipients of grants in 2014 and 2015 are named on the foundation’s website, it does not include the value of the gifts. For a full list of recipients, visit this story online.

School choice and private schools, $13,698,066

The top recipient of foundation grants, totaling $11.1 million, is Bozeman’s Petra Academy, the private Christian school where Gianforte’s children studied. He serves on the school’s board, as well as the board of the Alliance for Choice in Education, a group that has received $2.3 million in foundation support for scholarships to Montana private schools. The foundation also has given $135,000 to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, another nonprofit that helps parents navigate their options and advocates for public policies to support charter and private schools. Gianforte has advocated for school choice and called a new state tax credit for private school tuition “a step in the right direction.” He has said he supports public schools, too, but insists that parents should get to make the decision. He has declined to discuss any related policy proposals he might bring forward.

Christian ministry, bible colleges or faith-based services, $10,854,888

The top recipients in this category were branches of Love In the Name of Christ, a national organization with local chapters that bring churches together for community service work. In total, they received $3.2 million. Another $2.8 million went to the Rafiki Foundation, which teaches the Gospel to children in Africa, and $1.8 million went to Bozeman’s Grace Bible Church, the Gianfortes’ congregation. Gifts also supported Christian colleges from Bozeman to New Zealand and faith-driven social service organizations, such as Reach Out and Care Wheels, a nonprofit that builds custom wheelchairs for people with disabilities in developing nations. Although Gianforte has openly discussed his faith in the past, it has not been a feature of his campaign that has so far focused on his business background.

Public institutions, museums and the arts, $2,470,295

The foundation reported more than $2 million in gifts to the Stevens Institute of Technology, the New Jersey college where Gianforte graduated in 1983. The foundation has reportedly pledged at least another $8 million to the university that has not yet been reported to the IRS, based on press releases from the school touting the gift as record setting. Locally, the foundation has supported Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, Intermountain Opera and the Gallatin Historical Society, among others.

Family, women's health or anti-abortion, $1,724,037

Both the Montana Family Foundation and the national advocacy group Focus on the Family have received more than $500,000 each from the Gianforte foundation. The groups promote abstinence-only sexual education, adoption by married same-sex couples and school prayer while opposing divorce, gay marriage and nondiscrimination ordinances that protect transgendered people.  Others in this category include faith-based women’s health centers that oppose abortion and groups, like Montana Right to Life, that advocate for its ban or at least restriction. Gianforte opposed Bozeman’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which created explicit protections for gays and lesbians, because he says such regulations are onerous and burdensome on businesses. He has previously said that “discrimination is wrong” and noted that his company hired on merit alone. Gianforte also described himself as pro-life. He declined to say if he would support legislation to expand restrictions on abortion.

Social welfare or health programs, $598,450

Foundation gifts also supported food banks, soup kitchens and health-related charities that assist people who live in poverty. “Government has a responsibility to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves, and I would do that as governor,” Gianforte said. “The best anti-poverty program is a job. That’s my primary focus.” He has not offered proposals to strengthen the government safety net or specifics about any new job training programs he would create. In a Friday statement, Flint said the Department of Public Health and Human Services needs new leadership. “We may also need to look at shifting some of their responsibilities to other agencies or departments if they are unable to get the ship steered in the right direction,” Flint wrote. The campaign did not elaborate on what such changes might look like or why they felt the agency needed to change directions.

Creationism, $290,000

Liberal commentators have highlighted Gianforte’s $290,000 in donations to the Foundation Advancing Creation Truth, the belief of some Christians that the Earth is 6,000 years old based on a literal interpretation of the Bible. The Glendive-based nonprofit operates a museum that shows early man living alongside dinosaurs. Gianforte has dismissed the comments as attacks on his faith and irrelevant to his campaign’s goal to bring more jobs to Montana.

Conservative advocacy, $138,500

The foundation has supported members of the State Policy Network, such as the Montana Policy Institute. These nonprofit research and advocacy groups support conservative causes and are backed by superdonors, the Koch brothers. Gifts also have gone to two groups -- the Alliance Defending Freedom and the American Center for Law and Justice -- that fight in courts to protect religious freedoms, such as prayer in schools. The alliance also has opposed abortion and argued that healthcare workers have the right to opt out of participating in morally objectionable procedures. Asked if he could point to examples of religious freedom being infringed in Montana, he paused and said “I’m just thinking” but did not name any incidences. When asked if he would support an Indiana-style religious freedom law, he has noted that the First Amendment already guarantees that freedom. Also among the top recipients in this category is the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, which advocates for transferring ownership of federal lands to local trusts. Gianforte has said he does not think transferring ownership is likely to happen, but is interested in exploring options to contract with federal authorities for the state to manage those lands.

Conservation or outdoors, $2,200

A few small gifts have gone to Ducks Unlimited, the Montana Wildlife Federation and Touch the Sky, a group that encourages children to get outdoors. Gianforte has mentioned his love of hiking and hunting on the campaign trail but not proposed any related policies.

Other, $178,000

The foundation also has given to groups that did not neatly fit these categories. They included the Veritas Forum, a group that organizes public panels where Christian thinkers discuss “big why questions” with leaders of other faiths, and Wonders of Science, a magic-like show by a retired Christian school leader and doctor that promotes interest in science.


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