Follow the Money | The Nation


Follow the Money

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As Janice Crouse indicated, defunding such organizations is only part of the Christian right's financial equation; the movement is also determined to funnel federal money to groups that support conservative family values. And its campaign has made advances on this front as well, especially through Bush's abstinence-only programs, international AIDS plan and faith-based initiative. Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, told me that he finds any allegations of political opportunism in federal grant-making decisions offensive. "That was a very sexy charge," he said, "but I don't see the proof."

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Esther Kaplan
Esther Kaplan is editor of the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, and author of With God on Their Side: George...

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The proof, in fact, is ready to hand. Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing--despite having recently been investigated by the State of Virginia for misusing relief funds to haul equipment for Robertson's for-profit diamond mining firm--was one of the first organizations to receive a faith-based grant. Robertson scored $500,000, renewable for three years, for a total of $1.5 million. The money pays for Operation Blessing to offer technical assistance to smaller faith-based outfits so they can compete for federal dollars of their own--and given that Robertson has disparaged several religious faiths as "aberrant" and insisted they not be considered for federal support, he'll likely use the $1.5 million to leverage grants for like-minded evangelicals. Chuck Colson--who had legal troubles of his own stemming from Watergate--was another significant beneficiary, through his evangelical organization Prison Fellowship Ministries, which was chosen by the faith-based office as one of only four national partners for a $22.5 million workplace re-entry program for ex-offenders. No direct funding from the faith-based office has gone to a single non-Christian religious organization, whether Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Sikh.

The bulk of the first round of grants issued by the President's emergency AIDS plan has gone to Christian relief agencies such as Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, Habitat for Humanity, Opportunity International and the Salvation Army. And that list could tilt toward the Christian right in the next round, since Prison Fellowship Ministries, Campus Crusade for Christ, Samaritan's Purse and other conservative evangelical organizations have applied for future funds.

Another funding stream has already taken that path. Bush has more than doubled the federal abstinence budget during his tenure, and he's used the money to support the grassroots infrastructure of the religious right. The Tri-County Right-to-Life Education Foundation in Ohio received $611,000 in 2001 and 2002, for example, and Metro Atlanta Youth for Christ, whose goal is "reaching the young people of metro Atlanta with the Gospel of Jesus Christ," has received federal grants during the Bush years totaling $455,000. By my count, Bush has sent more than $7 million in abstinence dollars to such overtly Christian organizations, and he's sent another $6.1 million in grants--some as large as $800,000--to "crisis pregnancy centers," which counsel young women not to abort. These abstinence grants have taken small, volunteer-run organizations and turned them into substantial institutions; one crisis pregnancy center in Boston, A Woman's Concern, received a $488,000 grant that allowed the group to bump its staff up from two to twelve. (By contrast, one lone federal abstinence grant has gone to a Planned Parenthood clinic during Bush's reign, for $127,000.) "Basically, they have created an industry," says SIECUS spokesperson Adrienne Verrilli.

These patterns appear even more intentional when you look at who hands out the money. The Department of Health and Human Services responded to a Freedom of Information Act request by providing a list of independent experts the agency tapped to review grant applications from 2001 to 2003 for one of the most significant federal abstinence funding streams, known as SPRANS. The list is revealing. While it does include some state public health officials, it lacks any nationally respected experts on sexuality education and pregnancy prevention, whether from the Kaiser Foundation, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood or prestigious universities. Instead it includes nine representatives of Christian evangelizing outfits such as Summit Ministries and the Turning Point. The list also includes multiple representatives from some of the most politically influential Christian-right lobby groups in the nation: the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, the Christian Coalition, the Traditional Values Coalition, the Heritage Foundation, even Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation. It likewise features Congressional family-values operatives such as House Republican aide Roland Foster, who has used his perch as a Governmental Reform subcommittee staffer to instigate audits of AIDS organizations and AIDS researchers. The Bush Administration has effectively turned over tens of millions of public dollars to the Christian right to distribute as it sees fit.

OMB Watch has called the Administration's assault on liberal nonprofits a "death by a thousand cuts." The accompanying federal windfall for the Christian right could mark the rebirth of a movement by a thousand grants. In late 2001, after Pat Robertson stepped down as head of the Christian Coalition, Christian-right leader (and former presidential candidate) Gary Bauer told the Washington Post, "I think Robertson stepped down because the position has already been filled. [Bush] is that leader right now." Like so many effective movement leaders, he's proved to be an excellent fundraiser as well.

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