A key assertion by former White House staffer David Kuo — his claim that the “faith-based” initiative was used for partisan purposes — is supported by information in Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn’s new book Piety & Politics: The Right-Wing Assault on Religious Freedom.
In the book, which was published Oct. 3, Lynn writes, “James Towey, until recently the head of the White House faith-based office, denies there is a political dimension to the initiative. Unfortunately for Towey, there is and he’s up to his neck in it. In 2002 and 2004 Towey made a series of campaign appearances alongside Republican congressional and gubernatorial candidates whom polls showed were locked in tight races.”
Lynn’s information is based in part on a story that ran in AU’s Church & State magazine in October of 2002. That piece, “Faith-Based Flimflam,” detailed how the White House was using the initiative to sway religious voters in a series of close House and Senate races.
Reads the story, “While the administration continues to advocate for the faith-based initiative, it does so while quietly concentrating on partisan political goals in the 2002 election. In fact, Bush’s White House seems especially focused on using the larger endeavor as part of an aggressive outreach effort to African-American voters in competitive political states and districts.”
White House staffers and their political allies in the Religious Right have tried to downplay the significance of Kuo’s charges, as detailed in his new book Tempting Faith. But Lynn said the allegations of partisanship are well documented.
“Americans United noticed this pattern of partisanship as far back as the summer of 2002,” said Lynn. “We suspected it was no coincidence that James Towey, then running the program for the White House, was speaking on behalf of so many candidates who were locked in right races.”
During the events, Towey appeared alongside several Republican candidates and often presented them with checks for faith-based grants awarded to local religious groups.
Kuo reports in his book that the strategy was deliberate. It was adopted by party strategists inside the White House and used in 20 competitive races, with Republicans winning 19 of them.
Lynn said the information in Kuo’s book, as supported by the AU report, prove that the faith-based initiative was never about helping those in need. In fact, it was just another partisan tool for the White House.
“The faith-based initiative has been so sullied by these revelations that I see it as beyond redemption,” Lynn said. “The office should be shut down before more religious leaders are manipulated.”
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.