I’ve got nothing against faith, and I’m all about freedom. But I don’t have any use for Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition.
As my colleague Rob Boston reported yesterday, the FFC is in Washington, D.C., today and tomorrow to hear from presidential hopefuls and top members of Congress. According to the group’s website, the FFC exists to preserve “the simple virtues of faith, hard work, marriage, family, personal responsibility, and helping the least among us.”
But I stopped by the conference today, and “simple virtues” were hardly the topic of the day. There was a steady drumbeat of determined partisanship mixed with fundamentalist religiosity.
Reed, who once headed Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, wants to lure fundamentalist churches and church-goers into a political machine that elects favored candidates. And he and his cronies don’t mind bending the law to do so.
FFC leaders are already talking about issuing bogus voter guides through churches, a legally and ethically dubious proposition. In his Christian Coalition days, Reed churned out carefully stacked guides that made Republicans look like saints and Democrats look like sinners. Partisan activity such as that cost the Coalition its tax-exempt status.
Today, Reed’s FFC is a 501(c)(4) organization. That means the group doesn’t pay taxes but donations to it are not tax deductible. Some political activity, including candidate endorsements, are allowed as long as electioneering isn’t the primary purpose.
Churches, on the other hand, fall into the IRS’s 501(c)(3) category. They are not permitted to engage in any electioneering at all. If they hand out biased voter guides, they are breaking federal tax law.
Do Reed and other FFC leaders care? Of course not. They are already boasting of what they hope to accomplish.
"This is the Christian Coalition on steroids," executive director Gary Marx told Bloomberg News. "Our sweet spot is bringing together the value voters and Tea Party into a powerful grassroots synergy."
Bloomberg reported that the FFC plans to prepare voting guides for churches and civic organizations to hand out before Election Day. The news service says the group counted 58.8 million voter contacts last year, through phone calls, direct mail, e-mail, text messaging and door-to-door campaigning. Its goal is 120 million contacts in 2012.
Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn warned churches not to enlist in Reed’s partisan schemes.
"This kind of mixture of religion and politics,” he said, “is a grave danger to American public life."