Washington, D.C. -- In a speech that raises serious legal questions, Christian Coalition Chairman Pat Robertson told a closed-door session of the group's state leaders his plan to control the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.
Speaking at a Sept. 13 breakfast for state leaders at the Coalition's "Road to Victory" Conference in Atlanta, Robertson said he will recommend a candidate in private correspondence and urge Coalition leaders to unite behind the candidate.
The Virginia Beach religious broadcaster also outlined a precinct-based political strategy for electing federal, state and local officials and compared the Christian Coalition to the notorious Tammany Hall political machine.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which made a tape of the speech public, said the comments raise serious questions about the Coalition's compliance with federal tax and election laws.
Said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, "We have repeatedly charged that the Christian Coalition is nothing but a hardball Republican political machine with a thin veneer of religiosity. In this speech, Pat Robertson not only admits that, he boasts about it.
"Pat Robertson is a fundamentalist Boss Tweed, preaching morality at Americans while running one of the most venal political machines in history," continued Lynn. "The IRS should move promptly to remove the Christian Coalition's provisional tax-exempt status."
Americans United's Lynn said he plans to turn the information over to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission for review.
The Coalition has operated since its founding in 1989 under a provisional 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. Robertson and other Coalition leaders have repeatedly claimed that the group is non-partisan and does not endorse or work for candidates. But the IRS has so far refused to grant the statuson a permanent basis. Groups with this status may not engage in politicking as their primary activity.
The Coalition has already been sued by the FEC for coordinating its activities with Republican candidates for office in 1990, 1992 and 1994 and failing to report its expenditures.
In his speech to Coalition state leaders, Robertson said Coalition activists must unite behind a single candidate in the Republican primary in 2000 to maximize their chances of putting an ally in the White House.
Warning Coalition activists that they must not "split our votes among four or five people," he said, "We need to come together on somebody who reflects our values and has the stature to be president."
Observed Robertson, "We need to be like a united front. I know that all these laws say that we've got to be careful, but there's nothing that says we can't have a few informal discussions among ourselves."
Robertson said he might send "personal letters" to the Coalition leaders himself, advising them on the favored candidate.
The Christian Coalition chairman boasted of his group's political powerand control of the Republican Party. "I told [Coalition President] Don Hodel when he joined us, 'My dear friend, I want to hold out to youthe possibility of selecting the next president of the United States, becauseI think that's what we have in this organization.'"
Robertson said he is well on his way toward achieving the Coalition's long-range goals.
"But we said back in 1990 when we had the first Road to Victory, I laid out some goals for the Coalition," he observed. "We said we'd have conservative control of Congress by '96; we did it in '94. We've had a major presence in one of the major parties; we still haven't gotten the influence I think we ought to have inside the Republican Party; we're still not totally like we should be. And we also said by the year 2000 we'd have the presidency and that's to me the next goal. We can hold Congress, get in some more good people into the Congress and into the governors' mansions and then focus in on the White House."
In the speech Robertson discounted Democratic Party chances in 2000, ridiculing "Ozone Al" Gore and saying House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt is "in the pocket of the labor unions." "I don't think at this time and juncture the Democrats are going to be able to take the White House unless we throw it away," he said. "But we have to get a responsible person and we have to realize some strategy."
Robertson said the group must maintain its precinct-based activities, using high- tech means to identify sympathetic citizens, register them to vote and get them to polls.
"We have developed this fantastic computer model where we can identify all the voters in a particular area," he said. "We can give people maps. They can look precisely at who people are by issues. It's very sophisticated and will get more so. So we can put into your hands weapons that are incredible. The basic, though, is that we stay with the organizational model and continue to work on precinct organization."
Robertson compared the Coalition to the notorious political machines of American history.
"If we have that basic core and we have identified people, this was the power of every machine that has ever been in politics," he observed. "You know, the Tammany Halls and Hague and the Chicago machine and the Byrd machine in Virginia and all the rest of them."
Robertson plans to use his political power to achieve radical changes in American life. During the speech he called separation of church and state "a distortion of what the framers of the Constitution intended."
The multi-millionaire broadcaster cited U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook's so-called "Religious Freedom Amendment" as a major organizational goal. That constitutional amendment, legal experts insist, would effectively repeal church-state separation. It would, they say, allow coercive school prayer, require tax aid to religious schools and permit governments to promote the majority faiths.
Said Robertson of the Republican leadership in Congress, "We just tell these guys, 'Look, we put you in power in 1994, and we want you to deliver. We're tired of temporizing. Don't give us all this stuff about you've got a different agenda. This is your agenda. This is what you're going to do this year. And we're going to hold your feet to the fire while you do it.'"
Thundered Robertson, "I think we've been far too reluctant. I've been the good guy, always 'Oh yeah, whatever. We want to be team players.'Well, sure, yeah. But it's time for us to start leading the team."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.