November 2011 Church & State | People & Events

Religious Right groups have enlisted an unlikely ally in their quest to increase fundamentalist Christian political power: a collection of wealthy venture capitalists from California.

The well-heeled activists are bankrolling an ambitious scheme to register 5 million conservative Christian activists in time for the 2012 elections, the Los Angeles Times reported recently.

Using a non-profit organization called United in Purpose, the donors hope to register enough new voters and motivate them to go to the polls to help elect the Religious Right’s favored candidates. The Times said the group is relying on “sophisticated data-mining techniques to compile a database of every unregistered born-again and evangelical Christian and conservative Catholic in the country.”

Added the Times, “Through partnerships with Christian organizers and antiabortion groups, United in Purpose hopes to recruit 100,000 ‘champions’ to identify unregistered Christians and get them to the polls as part of its Champion the Vote project. Profiles drawn from its database, which numbers more than 120 million people, will enable organizers to target potential voters with emails and Web videos tailored to their interests.”

Although most of the project’s backers are anonymous, the newspaper reported that one main supporter is Ken Eldred, a wealthy Republican donor who has formed technology companies. Another activist is Reid Rutherford, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who promotes solar energy.

The group claims it is not backing any particular party, but the Champion the Vote website states that its main issues are the “right to life,” religious freedom and traditional marriage – issues that form the core of the Religious Right agenda.

Ralph Reed, former executive director of TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, told the Times that many projects have been launched to activate conservative Christian voters.

“Obama has awakened the sleeping giant of the social conservative vote,” Reed said. “Whether every lofty plan to register and educate evangelical and Catholic voters comes to fruition or not, the multiplicity and intensity of the efforts underway suggest Obama and the Democrats will compete on a much more even playing field than they were in 2008.”

The Champion the Vote effort is being promoted by Religious Right groups. After Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s day-long prayer in Houston in August, the American Family Association (AFA) used a list of email addresses collected from attendees and sent each information about Champion the Vote.

The Times reported that the Rev. Buddy Smith, the AFA’s executive vice president, said that Wildmon knows Eldred, but Smith denied that the AFA is giving the effort any money.

The effort may not need AFA cash. Eldred declined to say how much it costs, but did tell the Times, “It’s not cheap, I can tell you that.”

The group is compiling the lists from disparate sources, including subscribers to religious periodicals, the mailing lists of anti-abortion groups and even NASCAR fan clubs.