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RELIGIOUS RIGHT BRINGING IN 'MORE MONEY THAN EVER'

by Bill Berkowitz

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Religious Right Lining up Behind Huckabee

(IPS) -- In 1897, the great American author and humorist Mark Twain, responding to stories that had him lying at death's door declared, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." One hundred ten years later, Twain's rejoinder could be applied to mainstream media reports about the demise of the Christian Right in the United States.

Over the past two-plus decades it has become fashionable for the traditional press to periodically pen the Religious Right's obituary. Or, if not an outright death notice, articles appear detailing both real and perceived rifts within the Religious Right.

Over the past few months, religious right leaders have endorsed an assortment of Republican Party presidential candidates. Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who is the leading voice for Christian conservatives in the Senate, gave Arizona Senator John McCain his support. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney received the endorsements of long-time conservative activist Paul Weyrich and Bob Jones III, the president of South Carolina's evangelical Bob Jones University.


Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee enjoys the support of a host of religious right leaders including Janet Folger, president of Faith2Action; Rick Scarborough, founder and president of Vision America; the reverend Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association; and Tim and Beverly LaHaye, he the veteran activist and co-author of the wildly popular "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic novels, and she the founder of Concerned Women for America.

When Pat Robertson endorsed former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani -- champion of pro-choice, pro-gay, and anti gun positions -- ‘all heck broke loose' on the right. On conservative websites and blogs, charges and counter charges were hurled. Robertson, the once revered leader who founded the Christian Coalition -- a powerful 1990s grassroots group -- and the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), was called irrelevant and characterized as a betrayer -- a hypocrite who would do anything to enhance his political power.

The Christian Right's inability to back one candidate underscores the reality that differences exist within the movement. The recent deaths of long-time movement icons Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy, and the retirement of Robertson as CEO of CBN, is also indicative of a movement in transition and perhaps even turmoil.

Some in the media, and on the left, have viewed these fault lines as symbolic of a major meltdown. A series of pre-mature obituaries have been written with mainstreamers often concluding that the religious right's days are numbered.

One way to measure the health of the religious right is to track the amount of financial support various top-shelf organizations continue to receive, despite the internal discord. Recently, researchers at Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS), a liberal civil rights watchdog group, pointed out that several major organizations are raising "more money than ever."

According to the reverend Barry Lynn, executive director of AUSCS, "The top Religious Right groups are taking in huge amounts of money. They are also quietly organizing churches into a partisan political machine. Now they just have to find a presidential candidate who will carry out their agenda."

"They know they are on the verge of full control over the Supreme Court," Lynn added, "and one more appointment could lead to a high court reversal on church-state separation, reproductive rights and gay rights."

An analysis of IRS filings by AUSCS found that:


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James Dobson's Focus on the Family took in $142.2 million in 2006, a $4.4-million increase over the previous year. In addition, Dobson's Focus on the Family Action took in $14.6 million in 2006.


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Tony Perkins' Family Research Council took in $10.3 million in 2006, an increase of more than $900,000 over the previous year. FRC Action, an affiliated group, took in $1.1 million in 2006.


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Don Wildmon's American Family Association took in 16.9 million dollars in 2006.


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Alan Sears' Alliance Defense Fund took in $26.1 million in 2006, an increase of $4.1 million over last year.


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Robertson's CBN took in $236.3 million in 2005, a $49.8-million increase over the previous year.

"Religious Right groups get their money from a variety of sources," Rob Boston, assistant director of communications for AUSCS, told IPS in an e- mail. "Some, like the Family Research Council, rely on a handful of large donors who give generously to augment a grassroots presence that contributes more modest amounts. Others, like Focus on the Family, rely on small donations from a huge body of supporters."

In addition to a ratcheted up presence on the Internet -- with active websites, blogs and podcasts -- "Most Religious Right groups maintain vigorous direct-mail operations," Boston pointed out.

"One constant that I've noticed in my 20 years of monitoring the Religious Right is that these groups never hesitate to reach for the most lurid rhetoric.

"Enemies come and go," Boston added. "In the 1980s, groups like Concerned Women for America raised lots of money battling ‘secular humanism.' In the 1990s, Bill and Hillary Clinton were frequent targets. Bashing gays is always lucrative for the Religious Right. There are also certain public figures whose very name can be counted on to bring in the checks. I am always amused, for example, at the inventive ways some groups use to work Ted Kennedy into every letter. After November of 2006, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi became useful for this purpose as well.

"The common thread among all of these letters is demonization. In the Religious Right's fundraising world, some malignant force is always out there trying to tear down America. Reading these letters, you get the impression that only your check will prevent the collapse of Western civilization."

In a recent interview with The Denver Post's PoliticsWest, Tom Minnery -- senior vice president of government and public policy for Focus on the Family and Focus on the Family Action, the organization's political arm -- maintained that it was ridiculous to be talking a so-called crack-up within the religious right.

Minnery pointed out that ever since 1988, when Robertson lost his bid for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, there have been widespread "predictions of a crack-up" within the evangelical movement. Minnery noted that out of Robertson's campaign came the creation of the Christian Coalition (CC), which "rose up and became very strong."

Years later, when the CC "faded, there was another spate of stories about the crack-up of evangelical Christians as an influence in the public square," Minnery noted.

In 2004, eleven out of eleven "states that had state marriage amendments on the ballot, passed them all by landslide proportions, except for liberal Oregon, which passed it with a 57 percent majority," Minnery added. The fact that social issues brought so-called values voters to the polls "astonished reporters."

"Now, we're into another cycle and the normal predictions of the crack-up of evangelicalism is occurring," Minnery stated. The fact that conservatives are divided over which presidential candidate to support fuels those types of stories. While Minnery admits to "some unsettledness" within the ranks, he said that he would "hardly call that a crack-up."

In the end, Minnery, and other conservative leaders, expect that no matter whom the Republican Party nominee is, "a lot of people on our side would probably swallow hard and vote for the more conservative of the two major party candidates."



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Albion Monitor   December 22, 2007   (http://www.albionmonitor.com)

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