IFAS | Freedom Writer | June 1996 | nonpartisan.html

Christian Coalition's claims of
nonpartisanship are deceitful

By Rob Boston

Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson and other leaders of the Christian Coalition insist that the group is "nonpartisan." The Christian Coalition's purpose, they say, is to make sure religious conservatives are involved in local politics and are informed about the issues.

In reality, the Christian Coalition is about as nonpartisan as the National Review. The group essentially functions as an arm of the Republican Party, laboring to get the most ultra-conservative candidates elected. This raises some serious questions about the organization's tax-exempt status.

The Coalition holds a nonprofit tax status that permits it to engage in politics, as long as such activity does not constitute more than 49 percent of its actions. However, evidence clearly indicates that 100 percent of the organization's work is political. The Christian Coalition is the equivalent of a political action committee, and it ought to be required to pay taxes and report lists of donors, just as every other political action committee in the country must. The fact that the Christian Coalition can claim a tax-exempt status while shilling for the most extreme faction of the GOP is nothing short of a first-class scandal.

Anyone who doubts that the Coalition is an arm of the GOP need only look at the group's origins. It was funded in part with a $64,000 contribution from the Republican Senatorial Committee (RSC) in October of 1990. The RSC is hardly in the business of forming nonpartisan political organizations.

The Christian Coalition's endorsement of the Republican Party extends from national politics right down to the local level. At a May 1995 Coalition conference for Christian Coalition activists interesting in running for school board slots, attendees were exhorted to target heavily GOP precincts.

"Start with the very top precincts with 70 percent Republican," Tim Phillips, a strategist for U.S. Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA), told the crowd. "[Only take] precincts that are most Republican year after year."

Phillips also recommended some "stealth" tactics to find the "hard-core people" _ the most conservative Republicans. He suggested inventing a phony polling firm, in his parlance a "generic name for a survey phoning group," and asking loaded questions about abortion, school prayer, gay people, and the National Education Association. Respondents giving the most right wing views are later targeted for calls on election day to remind them to vote.1

The Christian Coalition has been eager to shill for the GOP's right wing agenda in Congress. When Republican leaders, led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, unveiled their Contract with America prior to the 1994 mid-term elections, Reed was quick to add the Christian Coalition's endorsement. He pledged that the group would spend $1 million promoting Contract planks. Gingrich later returned the favor by appearing at a Capitol Hill press conference on May 19, 1995, announcing the Coalition's 10-point Contract with the American Family. Exactly one Democrat spoke at the event Rep. Mike Parker of Mississippi, who soon switched to the GOP.

In 1995 the Christian Coalition was so desperate to help the Republican hard right wing pass a provision that would ban lobbying by nonprofit groups that receive federal money that it teamed up with the National Beer Wholesalers. The Coalition's target was Planned Parenthood; the beer wholesalers were gunning for "antialcohol" groups that they say have it in for them.

The unholy alliance targeted the House Appropriations Committee and decided to split the work. "We divided up the list," said David K. Rehr, the beer wholesalers' vice president for government affairs. "In what districts did beer wholesalers have good contacts with the members? In what districts did the Christian Coalition have good contacts with the members? They'd have Christian Coalition members calling the districts, and we'd have beer wholesalers and their employees calling as well."2

A poll the Christian Coalition itself commissioned in 1995 lays bare the facts about the group's alleged "nonpartisan-ship": 68 percent of Coalition members identified themselves as Republicans; 20 percent said they were independents and a mere 5 percent claimed to be Democrats. (Ninety-five percent of the Coalition members asked said they planned to vote against President Clinton.) At a breakout session on how to work within the Democratic Party that was held during the Christian Coalition's 1995 Road to Victory Conference, less than a dozen people showed up. By contrast, a similar session focusing on getting power within the GOP attracted a packed room of attendees.

Any doubts about the Coalition's ties to the GOP are dispelled by examining its fundraising mail. Robertson's letters are routinely loaded with bitter attacks on Democrats, usually described as "the far left," "radicals" or "liberals." Republicans are regularly praised, no matter what sins they may have committed.

In the summer of 1995 the Christian Coalition sent members a four-page fundraising appeal begging for a regular contribution of $20 per month to join the "Christian Patriots." In hysterical tones, Robertson screamed that he was moved to form the Patriots because, in the wake of the 1994 elections, "I'm concerned that Christian voters flush with victory will now become complacent...believing America is safe from the Clinton Administration's liberal agenda." Robertson assured readers that "the Left will now fight even harder to regain the ground they lost last year."3

"The Left" can only do wrong, but conservatives who toe Robertson's line on social issues can be forgiven for virtually any transgression. Noted the letter, "You've probably already seen the incredible attacks being launched against pro-family leaders in Congress like Newt Gingrich in which their statements are being taken out of context and distorted by the liberal news media." At the same time Robertson was extolling Gingrich as a "pro-family leader," Vanity Fair magazine was publishing a piece on the speaker of the house chronicling his long history of marital infidelity.

Much of the Christian Coalition's shilling for Republicans isn't even subtle. In the May/June 1995 issue of Christian American, an article about Coalition activity in the southern states notes that in Florida, Rep. Dan Webster, the House minority leader "is an unabashed born-again Christian and a strong advocate of religious conservative causes." Notes the piece, "If Florida Republicans are able to pick up just four more seats in the 1996 elections, Rep. Webster will be Florida's first Republican Speaker in a century." This is clearly an endorsement of GOP candidates.

The same article noted that Georgia is still cursed with a Democratic governor, Zell Miller, and quotes a political science professor who asserts that Miller and state Democrats will have to watch their step because, "They know the Christian Coalition and other groups are watching their every move."4

During the 1995 Road to Victory Conference in Washington, several Republican office seekers were endorsed. During a meeting of the South Carolina Christian Coalition caucus, state director Roberta Combs introduced a GOP congressional candidate and said, "We do not endorse candidates but work with candidates as individuals" as if there was a difference between the two.

Combs began discussing South Carolina's Fifth Congressional District, saying in reference to the Democrat who holds the seat, "He needs to go." She then introduced Larry Bigham, a Republican running for the slot. "He's going to be our next congressman in the Fifth District," Combs told the 100 plus attendees.

Bigham noted that Spratt, the incumbent, scored only 29 percent on the Christian Coalition's Congressional Scorecard. "Larry Bigham will score 100 on your scorecard," he declared. "I need your help. I need your support. Roberta has given me her personal support."

Continued Bigham, "In January of 1997, we will have a good Christian in office along with all the others." (Spratt, a Presbyterian, apparently does not fit the Coalition's definition of a "good Christian.")

Combs seemed well aware that her activities were of a questionable nature. Twice she demanded that any reporters present leave the room. On another occasion, when a man walked into the room carrying a camera tripod, Combs snapped, "Are you press?"

In other state Christian Coalition caucuses during the '95 event, similar endorsements were handed down on behalf of Republicans. In the Louisiana meeting, state director Sally Campbell pushed the gubernatorial candidacy of state Sen. Mike Foster. At the Wisconsin caucus of Christian Coalition convention goers, Scott West of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, stood up to thank the Coalition for supporting his unsuccessful congressional campaign against Democratic Rep. David Obey in 1994. A meeting of North Carolina Coalition members featured State Rep. Robin Hayes, a Republican who discussed his religious beliefs, outlined a conservative legislative agenda, and asked for the support of individual Coalition members as he runs for governor. During the Texas Christian Coalition caucus, "Christian nation" advocate and Coalition activist David Barton crowed that three-fourths of the 74 candidates for public office "we supported" in 1994 won. At the Arizona caucus, Nathan Sproul, state field director, urged attendees to become precinct committee chairs in the Republican Party but not to let anyone know the Christian Coalition was behind the move.

Incredibly, despite the group's close identification with the most reactionary wing of the Republican Party, Reed and Robertson continue to insist that the Christian Coalition is "nonpartisan." As the Federal Election Commission began investigating the group's activities, Coalition spokesman Mike Russell issued the following statement: "The information we distribute has been reviewed by the finest attorneys in the country, and it has met IRS specifications as being nonpartisan. We feel we're still in compliance with the law and feel like we'll be fully vindicated when this process is finished."5

At the time of this writing, the FEC investigation is said to be in full swing, focusing on Christian Coalition activities in 35 states. Only time will tell if the FEC and more importantly, the Internal Revenue Service, are taken in by Robertson's and Reed's duplicity.

Rob Boston is assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. This article is excerpted from his new book The Most Dangerous Man in America? Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition (Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY).


N O T E S

1 Hans Johnson, "School board crusade," Church & State (July/August 1995).
2 Jonathan Peterson, "Christian group adds budget items to agenda," The Los Angeles Times (October 30, 1995).
3 Christian Coalition undated fundraising letter, received August 1995.
4 Christian American (May/June 1995).
5 Lee Bandy, "FEC probes Christian Coalition," The State, Columbia,S.C. (September 30, 1994).

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.