The Lord's Lobbyists: The Dollars and Cents (Part 1)

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    President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of the United States Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 8, 2011.
By Brendan Giusti, Christian Post Reporter
November 23, 2011|1:55 pm

The number of faith-based lobbyists in Washington, D.C., has tripled since 1970, making it a nearly $400 million per-year industry.

But in today's political climate in the nation's capital, the staggering sums spent on lobbying by religious organizations are mere drop in the bucket compared to those spent on behalf of corporate interests.

"I don't think any faith-based organization is likely to compete with more secular organizations for money or for power," the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, told The Christian Post.

The issue stems from the methods used to raise funds to finance the lobbying efforts.

Money for most lobbyists comes from special-interest groups that have a way to raise money from their constituencies. For instance, corporations often make donations to industry-specific lobbyists.

In 2011, pharmaceutical companies spent more than $180 million in lobbying efforts, according to statistics from the Center for Responsive Politics. The insurance industry spent more than $115 million and oil and gas firms paid more than $110 million each.

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Pfizer spent roughly $10 million on pharmaceutical lobbyists in 2011, while ConocoPhilips and Exxon Mobil each spent more than $10 million each.

"Money for faith-based lobbyists is often much harder to raise"” Gaddy said.

Faith-based lobbying organizations are typically financed by discretionary giving, according to Gaddy. Donations usually come from people of faith making a contribution to a cause or a group that handles many issues in accordance with the donor's beliefs.

The moral or ethical agenda of faith-based lobby groups also diminishes its effects.

“The influence would rarely be as great because many faith-based lobbyists are making an appeal to the moral conscience of legislators," Gaddy said.

Religious advocacy groups lobby legislators on roughly 300 different issues, according to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The issues also are evenly divided between domestic and international concerns.

The faith-based efforts are further demassified by denominations.

Roughly one in five lobby for Roman Catholic concerns, according to the study. Evangelical Protestant agendas account for 18 percent, while mainline Protestant efforts comprise 8 percent of the overall efforts.

The fragmentation is a natural reflection of the religious views in the U.S., but it can be particularly problematic when confronting national issues.

"When the religious community in the nation was more homogeneous, less diverse than it is now, religious lobbying was more effective," Gaddy said. "That diversity, inevitably, weakens the impact of the lobbying effort because of different points of view claiming the same religion."

Interfaith efforts, however, account for a quarter of all faith-based lobbying, according to the Pew study.

But the groups that spent the largest amount on faith-based lobbying in recent years still remains singular in nature.

The United States Conference of Bishops spent more than $26 million in 2009, while the National Right to Life Committee and the Home School Defense Association both spent more than $10 million.

The specific goals of individual groups is reflective of the country's polarization.

"The religious community in the nation tends to be as divided on issues as the political community in the nation," Gaddy said.

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