The Terrible 10

Despite Some Political Setbacks, America's Leading Religious Right Groups Still Have Plenty Of Money And Influence

 

The Religious Right is alive and well in American politics. Collectively, the nation’s 10 largest Religious Right organizations collect over $1.2 billion in donations every year. Millions of Am­ericans are sympathetic to the goals of the Religious Right. Lobbyists representing these groups work the halls of Congress and state legislatures, where they enjoy strong ties to powerful lawmakers.

In addition, Religious Right groups are active in the nation’s courts at the federal and state level. They control vast media empires and educational networks.

What follows is a survey of America’s largest, best funded and most powerful Religious Right organizations. All budget figures are taken from publicly available tax documents and in most cases represent numbers from 2012.

 

The Falwell Empire

Revenue: $628,185,434

The Moral Majority is long gone, and its founder, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, died in 2007, but the TV evangelist’s Lynchburg, Va., empire lives on through Liberty University.

Now run by Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty has become the largest evangelical Christian college in the nation. It also serves as the primary political vehicle for the younger Falwell, who frequently invites high-profile Republican leaders and presidential aspirants to speak on campus.

The university is also home to the Liberty Counsel, a Religious Right legal group headed by attorney Mathew Staver (who also serves as dean of Liberty’s new law school). Budgetary figures for Liberty Counsel are not available. Remarkably, the group a few years ago declared itself a religious ministry and stopped filing documents with the IRS about its finances.

 

The Robertson Empire

Christian Broadcasting Network Revenue: $286,080,858

Regent University Revenue: $98,676,713

Controversial TV preacher Pat Rob­ertson no longer controls an explicitly political group; he cut ties with the Christian Coalition years ago. But Robertson continues to spread political messages through his “700 Club,” a daily televised mix of fundamentalist religion, faith-healing and far-right politics. Based in Virginia Beach, Va., the volatile preacher remains a player in both the state GOP and national conservative politics.

Robertson is 83 but shows no signs of slowing down. He also continues to use his daily program to unleash strange commentary. Within the past year, he has asserted that teen suicide is linked to “all kinds of demonic games they play,” insisted that gay people use special rings to cut others and infect them with HIV and, on the 12th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, reiterated his belief that separation of church and state was to blame for the acts of terrorism.

 

Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family Revenue: $90,753,760

Focus on the Family Action (Citizenlink) Revenue: $6,957,105

This large, conservative evangelical ministry headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., has become a little less high-profile since its founder, child psychologist James C. Dobson, stepped down. Now headed by Jim Daly, Focus on the Family remains a player if only due to its towering budget and frequent political jeremiads.

Although Daly is less strident than Dobson, FOF’s political positions haven’t changed. The group remains opposed to marriage equality and LGBT rights. It also pushes for inclusion of conservative Christianity in public schools and government and opposes the teaching of evolution. The organization reaches people mainly through various publications and segments for Christian radio.

 

American Center for Law and Justice / Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism

ACLJ Revenue: $17, 275, 299

CASE Revenue: $40,456,605oooooo
Found­­ed by TV preacher Pat Robertson in 1990, the ACLJ is now run by his close ally, attorney Jay Sekulow. The group bills itself as a public interest law firm working to protect “freedom and liberty” around the world. Although it has offices near Robertson’s empire in Virginia Beach, ACLJ is particularly active in Washington, where it occupies a building across the street from the Supreme Court.

Under Sekulow’s leadership, the ACLJ has become increasingly shrill. Despite its claims to protect religious freedom, the ACLJ apparently would not extend that right to Muslims. In recent years, it has jumped on the Islam-bashing bandwagon, which has proved to be quite lucrative. Like  other dogmatic groups, the ACLJ is vehemently anti-gay rights and bashes the church-state wall as unhistorical.

Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism is an older organization founded by Sekulow prior to his employment at the ACLJ. It has now apparently merged with the ACLJ. ACLJ budget totals can appear deceptive at first glance because they do not include the much-larger CASE figure.

Sekulow is listed as a “consultant” for these groups, which means his salary is not made publicly available. In 2005, Legal Times reported Sekulow has amassed a personal fortune, earning an annual salary well over half a million dollars and maintaining three homes that were purchased for him by the non-profit legal outfits. He has also spread the wealth among family members and has hired his wife, brother, sister-in-law, and two sons as employees or contractors for the groups.

 

Alliance Defending Freedom

Revenue: $38,269,840

This group was originally founded in 1994 as the Alliance Defense Fund by a coalition of radio and TV preachers, among them Bill Bright, Larry Burkett, D. James Kennedy, and Don Wildmon. From humble beginnings, the Alliance Defending Freedom has emerged as a powerful player in the Religious Right’s legal strategy to knock down the church-state wall. The group has managed to overshadow or muscle out some smaller Religious Right legal groups.

Based in Scottsdale, Ariz., the ADF sponsors the National Litigation Aca­demy and the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, programs designed to funnel recent law school graduates directly into the group’s ranks. The ADF now boasts a national network of 2,200 “allied attorneys.” Because of these programs, its wide legal network and substantial income, the ADF has become the dominant Religious Right legal force in the nation. 

The ADF is vocally anti-gay, and its current president, Alan Sears, promotes the idea of a malicious “homosexual agenda” to the group’s followers. Lately, the organization has been active in efforts to assist for-profit corporations that seek to deny women access to contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act.

In addition, ADF supports “ceremonial” prayer at government events, the display of sectarian symbols on public property and the teaching of creationism in public school science classes.

 
American Family Association

Revenue: $18,236,929

Originally known as the National Federation for Decency, the AFA was founded in 1977 by Methodist minister and Religious Right activist Donald Wildmon. Over the years it transitioned from its original focus on pornography and “indecent” television programming to a wider Religious Right agenda.

The group is currently led by Tim Wildmon, Don Wildmon’s son. The AFA, headquartered in Tupelo, Miss., uses its substantial budget to run the American Family Radio Network and a far-right online news network called OneNewsNow, in addition to its monthly AFA Journal. The group is known for organizing boycotts of companies that are gay friendly and is the leading promoter of bogus “war on Christmas” claims.

The AFA’s media outreach is strongly influenced by Bryan Fischer, who was hired by AFA as an analyst, columnist and radio host. Fischer’s outlandish remarks on homosexuality, women’s rights, and a host of other issues have made him a hero to the Religious Right. (He has stated that Adolf Hitler invented church-state separation, said Native Americans deserved to have their land taken because they were sexually immoral and once opined that the Bible mandates that a killer whale at SeaWorld that killed its trainer should be stoned to death.)

As extreme as Fischer and the AFA may be, the group has the money and the supporters to remain a real threat.

 
Family Research Council

FRC Revenue: $14,122,495

FRC Action: $2,471,846

Once an arm of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council claims to be interested in boosting the fortunes of “family.” In reality, the group is a front to attack LGBT rights and the church-state wall. FRC is currently led by Tony Perkins, a former Louisiana state legislator. Headquartered in the heart of Washington, D.C., it lobbies and runs a political action committee. 

The group, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, hosts its own radio show and produces dubious research about the negative consequences of same-sex relationships, abortion and other pet Religious Right causes. Perkins has claimed that pedophilia is a “homosexual problem” and has accused President Obama of working with the “totalitarian homosexual lobby” to further its agenda.

The FRC sponsors an annual “Values Voter Summit” in Washington that attracts top Republican leaders. Increasingly, the group acts as a type of rubber stamp for whatever policies GOP leaders have endorsed. The group has even argued that cutting low-income families off from food stamps is the “Christian” thing to do.

Through FRC Action, the group has opposed the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  FRC Action recently named reality TV star Josh Duggar its new executive director.

 

Concerned Women for America

CWA Revenue: $6,347,614
Legislative Action Committee Revenue: $8,715,191

Found­ed by longtime Religious Right figure Tim LaHaye, the D.C.-based Concerned Women for America advertises itself as the country’s largest public policy women’s organization. The group was active through the 1980s opposing the Equal Rights Amendment and the spread of “secular humanism.”

Although less visible today, CWA continues to promote the idea of a “culture war” and focuses its political efforts on seven key issues: the family, abortion, religious liberty, education, pornography, national security and support for Israel. It may seem like an odd collection of priorities, but CWA’s focus areas match the Religious Rights’ favorite talking points.

The group’s budget is divided between the main organization and its affiliated legislative action committee. In recent years, CWA has spent more on lobbying than on other activities. Recent lobbying efforts have focused on the debt ceiling in addition to more traditional, dogmatic attacks on abortion rights and marriage equality. CWA also maintains a small political action committee.

 

National Organization for Marriage

Revenue: $7,202,412
National Organization for Marriage Education Fund Revenue: $2,454,805

Through its political advocacy and education funds, the National Organization for Marriage leads the fight against the legalization of same-sex marriage. Founded in 2007 to support California’s controversial Proposition 8, which was intended to ban same-sex marriage in the state, NOM views marriage equality as a direct blow against “traditional family values.”

Supported primarily by Religious Right activists and ultra-conservative Catholics, NOM steadfastly fights any attempt to extend marriage equality to same-sex couples. Recently, the group has even taken the fight to California schools and opposed legislation that would protect transgender students from harassment. From its base in Washington, D.C., NOM also funds a series of smaller, state-based political action committees that attempt to influence local races on behalf of the main organization.

Former syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher is active in the group. Its current president is Brian S. Brown.


Faith and Freedom Coalition

National Revenue: $3,375,131

Arkansas Revenue: $235,800

Delaware Revenue: $213,146

Founded by longtime GOP operative Ralph Reed in 2009, the Faith and Freedom Coalition was originally envisioned as a “21st Century version of the Christian Coalition.” Today, the FFC boasts over 700,000 members and active chapters in over two dozen states – although these figures are probably inflated. (Only two states – Arkansas and Delaware – appear to have actual budgets.) The FFC combines a radical anti-government message with the Religious Right’s typical talking points.

Reed launched the Duluth, Ga.-based group after working several years as a political consultant. In the wake of a failed effort to become a writer of political potboilers, the former Christian Coalition director returned to his Religious Right roots.

The FFC focuses on voter drives and other campaign-related efforts. It also produces a “Congressional Scorecard” for local congregations and chapter members that rates representatives based on their adherence (or lack thereof) to FFC’s positions. The FFC’s strong focus on voter engagement and political strategy clearly hearkens back to the glory days of the Religious Right, although with an up-to-date spin. Reed loves to brag about the group’s use of emerging technology and social media to spread its message.