Page 32


DATELINE D. C. God’s Lobbyists BY MONTE PAULSEN Washington, D.C. God the God of the Christian Coalition pours more cash into Washington lobbying than any other citizen group And by joining forces with like-minded groups, the coalition aims to pack the pews of Congress with religious conservatives next January. The Christian Coalition spent more than $4 million on federal lobbying during the first six months of 1997, the first period for which new federal disclosure reports are available. That makes it the eleventh largest lobby in the nation, ranking , alongside huge multinational medical, industrial, telecommunications, and finance companies such as Pfizer, General Electric, AT&T, and Citicorp. The Virginia-based coalition \(which claims 1.9 million members, a figure its critmember American Association of Retired Persons, according to a report compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The nonprofit coalition mounted this crusade on Washington by paying its lobbyists nearly one in every four dollars it collected, even as donations to the group plummeted from a high of $26.2 million in 1996 to $17 million last year. Coalition directors folded their magazine and fired a fifth of their 200-person staff in order to continue feeding their lobbyists. The semiannual reports, the first required by the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, do not detail how the coalition spent its money. Lobbying costs would typically include salaries and expenses for the coalition’s six registered lobbyists, as well as those of their planning and research staffs. Not included are campaign contributions or the cost of grassroots lobbying efforts, such as the coalition’s controversial voters’ guides. The coalition declined to elaborate how it spent $22,000 a day on lobbying. And the expenditure paid off. Congress passed several coalition-sponsored laws last session, including the $500-per-child tax credit and the ban on federal funding of abortions. This session, the Christian Coalition is pushing for further restrictions on abortion, and mounting campaigns to repeal state gay-rights and drug-legalization laws. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has report edly promised to bring to the floor bills that would give married couples a tax break and reintroduce prayer in public schools. The prayer bill, misleadingly labeled the Religious Freedom Amendment, would eviscerate the First Amendment guarantee of government neutrality in matters of religion. This fall, the Christian Coalition plans to team up with other conservative groups to force the Republican Party to make abortion, sexual morality, and family values the top issues in every campaign. The unnamed confederation was reportedly forged at a secret Washington, D.C. meeting, held in early March. Longtime conservative leader Paul Weyrich is expected to lead the new entity, which will coordinate activity between the coalition and up-and-coming groups such as the Family Research Council, which is directed by former Reagan domestic policy wonk Gary Bauer. With the support of wealthy conservatives, including Amway founder Rich DeVos, the council has created a political action committee called the Campaign for Working Families. Bauer says his PAC has already raised $2.7 million. Recent elections in California and Illinois illustrate how these groups plan to join forces. The Campaign for Working Families PAC bought television advertisements for two extremely conservative Republican candidates, while the Christian Coalition blanketed churches with voters’ guides that reviewed those candidates favorably. Both candidates outflanked moderate Republicans in primaries, and one won the general election. But this type of coordinated effort may not be legal. The Christian Coalition’s taxexempt status has been in jeopardy for nearly eight years. The Federal Election Commission has sued the Coalition, accusing it of making $1.4 million in illegal expenditures on behalf of GOP candidates. And the Internal Revenue Service is investigating whether the Coalition voters’ guides violate its tax-exempt status. The I.R.S. in early March ruled against Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network on a similar charge. Though the exact terms of Robertson’s settlement with the I.R.S. remain secret, the deal amounts to an acknowledgment that the network illegally funneled as much as $8.5 million to Robertson’s 1988 Republican presidential campaign. CBN has agreed to pay a significant penalty and accept retroactive loss of tax-exempt status for 1986 and 1987. If the I.R.S. takes an equally hard-line position against the Christian Coalition, a group that grew out of Robertson’s 1988 campaign, then the Coalition would be liable for millions of dollars in back taxes and fines, and every taxpayer who gave money to the Coalition might have to amend his or her tax returns. Matt Freeman doubts that such a ruling would slow the torrent of conservative Christian money into politics. Freeman is a vice president of People for the American Way, a non-profit group that monitors and frequently challenges the Christian Coalition. “Pat Robertson has had past organizations put out of business, but it never stopped him from being a lobbying force,” Freeman said. “I fully expect that even if the I.R.S. and F.E.C. rulings go against them, the Christian Coalition will be a significant lobby for quite some time.” With ready money and active members, neither the coalition nor the Family Research Council will lack for friends in Congress. And the council intends to exert its influence further down Pennsylvania Avenue. Former Vice President Dan Quayle, millionaire publisher Steve Forbes, Ohio Representative John R. Kasich, and Missouri Senator John Ashcroft lead the parade of presidential hopefuls who have already begun courting God’s lobbyists. Monte Paulsen is national editor of the Metro Times and Alternative Media Inc. MAY 22, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7