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Monday, April 10, 2006

Pulling Up the Grass Roots

According to this report, the Christian Coalition is in disarray with mounting debts and falling membership:

Christian Coalition Shrinks as Debt Grows, by Alan Cooperman and Thomas B. Edsall, Washington Post: In an era when conservative Christians enjoy access and influence throughout the federal government, the organization that fueled their rise has fallen on hard times. The once-mighty Christian Coalition, founded 17 years ago by the Rev. Pat Robertson as the political fundraising and lobbying engine of the Christian right, is more than $2 million in debt, beset by creditors' lawsuits and struggling to hold on to some of its state chapters.

In March, one of its most effective chapters, the Christian Coalition of Iowa, cut ties with the national organization and reincorporated itself as the Iowa Christian Alliance... "The credibility is just not there like it once was," said Stephen L. Scheffler, president of the Iowa affiliate since 2000. "The budget has shrunk from $26 million to $1 million. There's a trail of debt. . . . We believe, our board believes, any Christian organization has an obligation to pay its debts in a timely fashion."

At its peak a decade ago, the Christian Coalition deployed a dozen lobbyists on Capitol Hill. Today, it has a single Washington employee who works out of his home ... in Charleston, S.C. The Christian Coalition is still routinely included in meetings with White House officials and conservative leaders... But financial problems and a long battle over its tax status have sapped its strength, allowing it to be eclipsed by other Christian groups, such as the Family Research Council and the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Although some of those groups have begun moving into the coalition's specialty -- grass-roots voter education and get-out-the-vote drives -- none is poised to distribute 70 million voter guides through churches, as the Christian Coalition did in 2000. ...

From its inception, the coalition was built around two individuals, Robertson and Ralph Reed. Both were big personalities with big followings. "After the founders left, the Christian Coalition never fully recovered," said James L. Guth, an expert on politics and religion at Furman University in South Carolina. "The dependence on Robertson and Reed was really disastrous."

Reed left in 1997 to become a Republican political consultant and is now seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Georgia. Once a golden boy of GOP politics, he has recently had his reputation tarnished by his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Robertson resigned as the Christian Coalition's president in 2001 after defending China's one-child policy in a CNN interview that fellow conservatives viewed with horror. It was among the most damaging in a series of remarks that have hurt Robertson's standing among evangelical Christians -- and may have hurt the Christian Coalition as well...

The group's identity is now tied to its voter guides, which are about to undergo a substantial change. After years of battling the IRS, the Christian Coalition reached a settlement a year ago that secures its status as a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) lobbying and educational institution.

But the settlement requires the Christian Coalition to allow candidates to write up to 25 words of explanation on each issue in the voter guides. In the past, the guides listed topics such as "unrestricted abortion on demand" or "adoption of children by homosexuals" and described the candidates' positions simply as "supports" or "opposes." ... The settlement has irritated some conservative activists, who think it will make the guides less effective. ...

    Posted by on Monday, April 10, 2006 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Religion | Permalink  Comments (3)

          


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