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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Religion, Money, and Politics

Our chapter on civic culture looks at the broad impact of religion in American public life. Our chapter on political parties notes its relationship to party identification. The Los Angeles Times reports on a new chapter in an old story:
Silicon Valley, the politically liberal technology hub, is an unlikely incubator of conservative Christian activism.

But a group of its venture capitalists is backing an ambitious project that seeks to affect the 2012 election by registering 5 million new conservative Christians to vote.

The nonprofit organization United in Purpose is using sophisticated data-mining techniques to compile a database of every unregistered born-again and evangelical Christian and conservative Catholic in the country.


The Champion the Vote website lists "right to life," religious freedom and traditional marriage as the organization's top issues. The group does not embrace any particular party or candidate, Dallas said, adding, "We're about the agenda of the lamb, Jesus Christ."

But that agenda undoubtedly would benefit Republican candidates if it adds significant power to the conservative Christian political movement, already revitalized by new efforts to engage pastors opposed to President Obama.

Democratic organizers also attest to the potential, which has prompted religious advocates on the left to expand their organizing efforts.

"We will roll out plans in battleground states that will give the right a run for their money," said the Rev. Jennifer Butler of the liberal group Faith in Public Life, which this cycle plans to triple the $1 million it spent on voter outreach and education in 2008.

Other left-leaning groups jumping into the fray include PICO National Network, a California-based activist group connected to more than 1,000 congregations in 17 states that has a budget of about $25 million.

The organization has already seen some early success, registering 268,000 new voters in Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Colorado in 2010 by working with churches affiliated with the Sacramento-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, that group's president.
Of course, Democrats have long relied on African American churches. Just before the 2010 midterm, the Religion News Service reported:
Facing an electoral bloodbath at the voting booth next Tuesday, Democrats are turning to a key part of their base—African-Americans—and are using the black church to help get voters to the polls.

In an election where Republicans appear poised to recapture the House and possibly the Senate, strong black turnout could be “the difference between a bad election and a horrible election,” said David Bositis, a political analyst from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

The concerted outreach goes beyond traditional candidate stops at black pulpits on the Sunday before Election Day. President Obama has been on the phone with black clergy, and first lady Michelle Obama was the star attraction on a conference call with thousands of African-American women.

The Democratic National Committee has dispatched staff to coordinate with black ministers as part of an aggressive get-out-the-vote mobilization, hoping to seize on early voting options in key states.

“We’re making sure that not only on Sunday that pastors encourage their community to go out and vote, but even during the weekday services,” said Regena Thomas, director faith and constituent outreach for the DNC.

Thomas, who is an African Methodist Episcopal pastor from New Jersey, said African-Americans are being encouraged to vote early, even “before and after Bible study.”