House Rep. Jon Dunwell, R-Newton, is working for one of the most influential and controversial social conservative groups in Iowa until the end of the year.
Dunwell told Newton News he was hired as an independent contractor for The Family Leader in June. Outside of his work at the Iowa Legislature, Dunwell’s main business is coaching and consulting, as well as providing financial advice. Dunwell is primarily consulting with The Family Leader’s advancement team.
The Family Leader, founded by Bob Vander Plaats, has a contract with Dunwell, an assistant majority leader in the Iowa House, for the next six months. The advancement team, Dunwell said, works on advancing the group’s mission and fundraising through grant writing and connecting with Family Leader supporters.
However, Dunwell did not disclose how much he was being paid for his services.
Dunwell also emphasized the policies he votes on as a representative in the Iowa Legislature “have nothing to do with Family Leader.”
“Those are always my own,” he said. “They’re welcome to lobby me for their positions from their policies and elections (division), if they want to.”
According to an article published by Reuters on Aug. 12, Dunwell created a fundraising document listing the contacts of Republican presidential campaigns, super PACs and other groups supporting the candidates, and it also detailed how much each was willing to spend ahead of The Family Leader forum in July.
Rueters reported the document was to help raise money for The Family Leader, but the news organization did not receive comment from Dunwell. He instead referred comments to Vander Plaats, who told Rueters that Dunwell had been a paid as an independent contractor for the group since June.
The DeSantis campaign paid $25,000 to The Family Leader for a booklet ad at the forum and a dinner invitation with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
And to the Republic, a nonprofit backing DeSantis, paid $20,000 to The Family Leader for a table at the after-event dinner with Carlson.
Never Back Down, a pro-DeSantis super PAC, paid $50,000 to The Family Leader for a two-page advertisement and dinner tickets.
Other presidential campaigns or groups allied to specific candidates, like Vivek Ramaswamy and Sen. Tim Scott, also paid for advertising in the booklet, according to the report from Reuters. Former Vice President Mike Pence turned down the contribution, saying he didn’t think it was the best use of donor funds.
Dunwell told Newton News he did not receive a portion of the money, or made any commission, from the booklet ad sales for The Family Leader forum.
“That was an assignment,” he said. “I don’t get a cut of anything. I mean, that’s an offensive question. Why would that come up? I’m a contractor who is paid a monthly fee who works in advancement. One of my tasks when I first got there … was to reach out to every campaign and offer than an opportunity to advertise in the book.”
Every campaign and PAC was offered the same opportunity and rates to partake in the advertising of the commemorative book.
“I don’t sell or raise capital on a commission basis,” Dunwell said.
Dunwell said it was The Family Leader that approached him to work as an independent contractor.
Dunwell describes The Family Leader as a ministry, citing its status as a nonprofit organization. Its mission and vision, he said, is about “creating Biblical leaders” in the family, church and government. Dunwell mentioned the church ambassador network, for instance, mobilizes churches “to pray and minister to legislators.”
“Not policy, not agenda, not trying to change anything in government. Just ministering and supporting and pastoring to legislators,” Dunwell said of lawmakers in the Iowa Legislature. “Up here there are pastors who come up and just pray for their legislators. Noting more than that.”
According to The Family Leader’s website, the group wants to see a revived America that honors God and blesses people. For the past 13 years the group says it has approached government from its “gospel-first mission” to transform, or change, lives and culture in the home, in the community and in government.
The Family Leader does in fact affect or tries to affect policy. Dunwell said there is an elections and policy division in the organization that is led by a different group of people.
Which is where the group’s lobbyists operate from. The elections and policy division encourages the election of Christ-like leaders and the advancement of a number key issues: community impact, education, elections and government, life, marriage and sexuality, religious liberty and restoring civility.
The Family Leader has stuck to these issues by lobbying in favor of the recent abortion legislation, commonly referred to as the Fetal Heartbeat Bill, that passed during the special session this year. In contrast, The Family Leader also lobbied against a bill that would have allowed for over-the-counter birth control.
Earlier this past session Democrats in the Iowa House proposed a bill that would have codified the right to same-sex marriage into state law. Although the measure did not receive enough support or interest to make it through the Judiciary Committee, The Family Leader still lobbied against it.
As an umbrella organization, The Family Leader is comprised of other groups like The Family Leader Foundation, Iowans For Freedom and Marriage Matters. Iowans For Freedom in particular successfully campaigned the ousting of three Iowa Supreme Court justices who legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa.
Of course, The Family Leader isn’t without its critics, some of which view the group’s vision to see a revived America as a form of Christian nationalism, which is the belief that America, its government and its laws be defined by Christianity. However, Dunwell rejected such a description, finding it offensive.
“That is not who they are. That’s not what they represent. That is not what they’re all about,” he said. “I’m comfortable with what I do. I get a chance to work with people who have a relationship with Christ and who have a passion to impact lives and a passion to minster souls and the spirits of elected officials who also want to see the benefits of the Family forwarded. Those are just good things.”
Dunwell later added that Christian nationalism and The Family Leader “do not go hand in hand.”
“That’s someone who doesn’t understand what’s going on and doesn’t understand The Family Leader,” he said. “That’s actually offensive to me.”
Overall, Dunwell said he enjoys his time working for The Family Leader and its committed team members.
“I got a chance to be a part of their Family Leadership Summit and just stood in awe of what the team put together and how they work together to put together a great, informative event for Iowans that brought together some international voices,” Dunwell said. “Some of those have ended up running for president.
“…It’s been a great joy working with Family Leader. Sometimes you get inside an organization and you don’t like what you see. I get inside the organization, I like what I see. I love the people they have brought together and the work that they do. I’m extremely impressed.”