Who to Challenge on the Theocratic Right
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Family Research Council / Action
Focus on the Family was originally located in Southern California, far from the Washington public policy debates during the 1970s. Founder James Dobson created a Washington presence for his organization by starting a think tank/lobbying arm and calling it the Family Research Council. Incorporated in 1983, the FRC was at first a closely aligned with Focus on the Family, becoming more influential under the leadership of Gary Bauer from 1988 to 1990 when Bauer then left to become a candidate for President. Issues around tax-exempt status resulted in a separation between Focus and the FRC, and now both organizations have 501 c (4) spinoffs, Focus on the Family Action and Family Research Council Action, to allow them greater permission to lobby.
The organization has maintained its focus on its definition of family issues: opposition to reproductive rights, homosexuality, and support for strictly traditional gender roles. The current President is Tony Perkins, a former Louisiana legislator.
Perkins maintains a strong connection to FRC members through his daily web messages from Washington and a print distribution center in Holland, MI, the home of the FRC ’s original benefactor, Edgar Prince. In the twenty years since its founding, the FRC has become the premier lobbying arm of the Christian Right in Washington, well positioned to sponsor its recent summit.
Focus on the Family / Action
From an Arcadia, CA radio show that began in 1977, Focus on the Family has grown to become the largest Christian Right organization in the country, with a campus of buildings on 50 acres of land in Colorado Springs, CO, an annual budget of $130 million, and its own zip code. James Dobson is its founder, a Christian conservative trained as a child psychologist. While Dobson has always emphasized the evangelical nature of the group, its mission, according to its own 2000 strategy statement, was to motivate “the people of God to practical action in their communities and our nation in defense of righteousness.”
At two points in Focus’ history, it became clear that Dobson would need a separate organization to representing the group when it wished to lobby. First came the Family Research Council in 1983, but as that group developed its own identity, Dobson founded Focus on the Family Action in 2004 to represent his own advocacy interests and once again to protect the 501 c (3) status of his parent organization.
Focus on the Family Action takes a hard line on homosexuality, whether it be same sex marriage, the ex-gay movement, or normalizing homosexuality in schools. It holds positions against gambling, pornography, and activist judges, and in October 2006 it joined forces with FRC Action to produce a voter scorecard.
Americans United to Preserve Marriage
Gary Bauer, this group’s President, has been associated with a number of Christian Right organizations since he served in the Reagan administration. Assuming the post of President of the FRC in 1988, Bauer led the group through a major growth stage, leaving to run for President in 2000. Less successful in attracting popular support as a candidate than as a voice of Christian social conservatism, Bauer withdrew after faring poorly in the early primaries.
In 1996 he founded the Campaign for Working Families (CWF), a political action committee, directing individual campaign contributions to the group’s endorsed candidates. The organization claimed credit for helping many conservative victories in 2002. Positioning itself as “Pro-life, Pro-family and Pro-growth,” the CWF reassured contributors that, “ Supporting CWF takes the guesswork out of identifying the true conservatives from the pretenders.”
Bauer’s own American Values organization was started to provide a forum for his personal views. It hosts his End of Day Report email and reprints his frequent op eds in places like the conservative Washington Times. The American Values slogan is the model for the summit’s slogan, which is a shorter version of Bauer’s “Life, Marriage, Family, Faith, and Freedom,” reflecting the centrality of Bauer’s vision for America in the formation of the summit. Americans United to Preserve Marriage shares a street address, a web appearance, and much content with American Values.
American Family Association / Action
Donald Wildmon is a United Methodist minister from Mississippi whose ministry has been to run his American Family Association since 1977. The AFA began as a conservative culture watchdog for the entertainment industry, believing in a direct correlation between the values represented by American TV, movies, and popular music and the decline of American moral behavior. From humble beginnings, the organization has grown to employ a staff of 150 and to claim over 3 million supporters.
The AFA is known for its campaigns against abortion, pornography, and gambling and its unapologetic stance against “the homosexual agenda.” It calls for boycotts of corporations that are “pro-homosexual,” like sponsors of the TV show “Ellen,” and the Ford Motor Company’s advertising campaign targeted to the gay market. “You have to use language that your audience understands,” Wildmon explained at the summit. “Politicians respond to votes; corporations respond to money.” The combination of AFA’s outspoken stance on pornography, abortion, and gambling, its nasty attacks on the “homosexual agenda,” and its hardball tactics have, in the past, isolated it from the other big Christian Right organizations. But Wildmon’s co-sponsorship of the 2006 summit, through his political action arm, AFA Action, indicates a shift further to the Right for this coalition.
After the televangelist Pat Robertson unsuccessfully attempted to secure the Republican Party’s nomination for the 1988 Presidential race, he began a new organization in Virginia Beach, VA, calling it the Christian Coalition. Its purpose was to mobilize Christian conservatives to vote based on their traditional values.
His first Executive Director was Ralph Reed, who nurtured the organization from its humble beginnings in 1989 to the most powerful organization of its kind in the 1990s. Many see the Coalition as a deciding factor in bringing out the vote to support Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America and causing the 1994 Republican Congressional sweep. Reed’s hardball tactics earned him the reputation of being a tough, and sometime ruthless, tactician.
The coalition used the technique of distributing millions of voters guides directly to churches, eventually concentrating on selected states. This approach attracted criticism with opponents like American United for the Separation of Church and State claiming successfully that the organization had violated its tax exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code. In addition, it sponsored annual “Road to Victory” conferences, which, in their heyday, offered political candidates a forum and provided motivation to attendees to get out the Christian Right vote. The group then began to suffer from management issues. By the time Reed resigned in 1987, the group had begun to lose ground.
Founded in 1989, the Christian Coalition had about 1,700 chapters (in all 50 states) and 1.7 million members. Their 1995 budget was $25 million. The coalition operated under a provisional status of a 501(c)(4) organization. They cannot legally endorse or oppose candidates. While they are not required to pay taxes, contributions to the group were not tax-deductible. In 1993, the Christian Coalition had full-time staff in 20 states and claimed 50,000 precinct leaders and 25,000 church liaison leaders.
Starting in November 1991, the Coalition's annual Road to Victory (RTV) national strategy conferences drew delegates from every state. About 800 attended the first RTV; about 1,500 attended in September 1992; and 4,200 attended RTV in September 1995. RTV was followed up with state and local Leadership Schools. These political seminars used a "nuts and bolts manual on how to start a chapter; how to fund raise for your candidate; how to be a candidate; and how to canvass your voters." They also deal with how to handle the media. Over 70 Leadership Schools were scheduled in 1993.
Subsequent directors have not realized the results of the organization under Reed’s leadership, and no one has matched Reed’s charisma. Road to Victory conferences became biennial, finally ending in 2004.The current director, Roberta Coombs, has struggled with state affiliates that chose to disassociate themselves from the coalition in disputes over the direction of the group. While the Coalition still produces voter guides, its voice and influence have both receded as the better-funded groups of FRC Action and Focus on the Family Action have grown in importance.