In 2002, syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher repeatedly defended President Bush's push for a $300 million initiative encouraging marriage as a way of strengthening families.
"The Bush marriage initiative would emphasize the importance of marriage to poor couples" and "educate teens on the value of delaying childbearing until marriage," she wrote in National Review Online, for example, adding that this could "carry big payoffs down the road for taxpayers and children."
But Gallagher failed to mention that she had a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote the president's proposal. Her work under the contract, which ran from January through October 2002, included drafting a magazine article for the HHS official overseeing the initiative, writing brochures for the program and conducting a briefing for department officials.
"Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it?" Gallagher said yesterday. "I don't know. You tell me." She said she would have "been happy to tell anyone who called me" about the contract but that "frankly, it never occurred to me" to disclose it.
Later in the day, Gallagher filed a column in which she said that "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."
In the interview, Gallagher said her situation was "not really anything near" the recent controversy involving conservative commentator Armstrong Williams. Earlier this month Williams apologized for not disclosing a $241,000 contract with the Education Department, awarded through the Ketchum public relations firm, to promote Bush's No Child Left Behind law through advertising on his cable TV and syndicated radio shows and other efforts.
Gallagher received an additional $20,000 from the Bush administration in 2002 and 2003 for writing a report, titled "Can Government Strengthen Marriage?", for a private organization called the National Fatherhood Initiative. That report, published last year, was funded by a Justice Department grant, said NFI spokesman Vincent DiCaro. Gallagher said she was "aware vaguely" that her work was federally funded.
In columns, television appearances and interviews with such newspapers as The Washington Post, Gallagher last year defended Bush's proposal for a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.
Wade Horn, HHS assistant secretary for children and families, said his division hired Gallagher as "a well-known national expert," along with other specialists in the field, to help devise the president's healthy marriage initiative. "It's not unusual in the federal government to do that," he said.
The essay Gallagher drafted appeared under Horn's byline -- with the headline "Closing the Marriage Gap" -- and ran in Crisis magazine, which promotes humanism rooted in Catholic Church teachings. Horn said most of the brochures written by Gallagher -- such as "The Top Ten Reasons Marriage Matters" -- were not used as the program evolved.
"I don't see any comparison between what has been alleged with Armstrong Williams and what we did with Maggie Gallagher," said Horn, who founded the National Fatherhood Initiative before entering government. "We didn't pay her to write columns. We didn't pay her to promote the president's healthy marriage initiative at all. What we wanted to do was use her expertise." The Education Department is now investigating the Williams contract.
The author of three books on marriage, Gallagher is president of the Washington-based Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, a frequent television guest and has written on the subject for such publications as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Weekly Standard.
While she was being paid by HHS in 2002, Gallagher in her syndicated column dismissed the arguments against "President Bush's modest marriage initiative" as "nonsense," writing: "Bush plans to use a tiny fraction of surplus welfare dollars to fund marriage education services for at-risk couples."
In a column later that year that appeared in the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Sun News, Gallagher said Bush's welfare-revision bill would, among other things, encourage "stable marriages," and that it was a "scandal" for Democrats to reject the president's plan and fail to offer an alternative.
National Review Editor Rich Lowry said of the HHS contract: "We would have preferred that she told us, and we would have disclosed it in her bio."
Tribune Media Services dropped Williams's column after his administration contract was disclosed. Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes Gallagher's column, plans no such action.
"We did not know about the contract," spokeswoman Kathie Kerr said. "We would have probably liked to have known." But, Kerr said, "this is what we hired Maggie to write about. It probably wouldn't have changed our mind to distribute it."