Reviews Christian Coalition election actions
When the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill passed the United States House of Representatives, the Christian Coalition stated in a press release: "After what happened in the Congress last night, we're one step closer to losing our rights to free speech and to have our voice heard in the political arena." I unequivocally disagree.
Unfortunately, the loud voices of a few have been mistakenly identified as the will of the many and, as a result, lawmakers and the public assume people of faith oppose meaningful campaign finance reform.
The mistaken conclusion is understandable. Examples are too numerous to fully detail.
But in the 2000 South Carolina and Michigan presidential primaries, the Christian Coalition and Pat Robertson spent hundreds of thousands of dollars assaulting the candidacy of Sen. John McCain and encouraging the perception that the Pat Robertsons of the world represent all people of faith.
In that case, the Christian Coalition's argument against campaign finance reform begins to make sense. Especially when its focus is to promote its narrow partisan political agenda as the only way to lead a "moral" life.
It also makes sense when you look at the Christian Coalition's longtime practice of distributing voter guides through houses of worship.
The coalition contends that the voter guides "educate the public on where office holders and candidates stand on the issues."
But the guides have been a source of great concern to many religious leaders and the U.S. Federal Election Commission because they contain misleading information and transparently favor one candidate over another.
And in the vast majority of cases, the voter guides are not distributed until the last weekend before the election.
The effect of the delay is to purposely minimize the time available for candidates and citizens to question the information contained in the guides.
Religious leaders have a responsibility to be sure that the information distributed to congregations leads to a more educated electorate, not to a more blindly partisan one.
And many take an active leadership role in ensuring that partisan organizations - cloaked in the language of faith -do not exploit a congregation for their own political gain.
But the Christian Coalition is not concerned with religious leaders speaking out against the group's voter guides.
The coalition is, however, concerned that the push to enact campaign finance reform will put it out of business as an advocate for ultra-conservative Republican elected officials.
There are also legal reasons why religious institutions should not distribute voter guides. Houses of worship are tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service Code and are, therefore, prohibited from participating in any partisan political activities.
Congregations that distribute similar voter guides may be breaking the law and jeopardizing the tax-exempt status.
It is exactly for these reasons that campaign finance reform is important. It is an issue that goes to the essence of the ethical and moral life of our nation and involves the core values that unite us, including honesty, integrity, character, openness and equality.
Voters deserve honesty, integrity and character, not only from the candidates for whom they will ultimately cast ballots, but also from the plethora of private organizations that advocate for or against a campaign effort.
Every election year, through our grassroots outreach program, I continually encounter a high level of cynicism about the political process.I see many people of faith opt not to participate in civic life.
At the root of the cynicism seems to be a growing lack of respect for politicians who are too busy asking for millions of dollars instead of hitting neighborhoods, town squares and local diners to make a personal pitch for a constituent's vote.
People of faith also express great concern that our political system is corrupt and that the frenzy to raise - and dole out - funds is at the heart of the matter.
The road to meaningful campaign finance reform is long and bumpy, yet a shinning glimpse of hope prevailed with the passage of the Shays-Meehan bill.
One can only imagine the intense pressure from the opposition.
However, because of an even more intensely held belief that reforming the country's campaign finance guidelines is the right thing to do, lawmakers are making a step in the right direction toward restoring confidence, trust and optimism about elections to the American public.