Congressional Con Game

Talking Issues But Pushing Candidates, The Faith & Freedom Coalition Proselytizes For The GOP

According to Faith & Freedom Coalition Executive Director Gary Marx, the group is all about issues, so pastors are free to get their churches involved.

“You’re not trying to endorse candidates,” Marx told attendees at a special session on local organizing during the Coalition’s June 3-4 meeting in Washington. “You’re not trying to get people into the Republican Party or Democrat Party.”

Marx left the room after his comments. He was barely out the door before two other speakers started outlining strategies for electing Republicans.

Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, seemed to acknowledge the disconnect between his message and Marx’s. At one point, he looked uncomfortable as he asked if anyone was recording the session.

Scheffler said the only way to change the country is to get people who agree with you elected to public office. Rallies are fine, and lobbying can be valuable, he said, but politicians really understand one thing: the ballot box

“At the end of the day, these guys march to a different drummer,” Scheffler said.

Scheffler outlined how to win an election: The first step is to find the right candidates – people who, in Scheffler’s view, will be far to the right politically and religiously. After that, it’s a simple matter of obtaining a list of voters, determining how they will vote, contacting the ones who agree with you and getting them to the polls on Election Day.

“Elections have consequences,” said Scheffler, who serves as the Republican National Committeeman from Iowa. “Unless you have men and women of integrity running, things will never change.”

In Iowa, Scheffler said, he doesn’t bother to get lists of Democratic voters. He focuses on Republicans and Independents. Volunteers dump the names into a database and start making phone calls. They also do a county canvass – an assessment of the political leanings of every targeted voter in a given area. Voters tagged as “pro-life” and “pro-family” are entered into the database.

Scheffler said the Coalition got involved in nine races for Iowa’s House of Representatives and Senate in 2010. Seven of the seats, he said, were won by “the candidate we wanted to win.”

To assist with this effort, the Faith & Freedom Coalition has produced a new software program called VoterTrak. Billy Kirkland, the Coalition’s national field director, explained that VoterTrak is based on a similar program used by the Republican Party called Voter Vault. Kirkland said the Coalition used VoterTrak in Virginia and New Jersey in 2009, helping Republican candidates win gubernatorial races.

Kirkland explained that data for the voter ID program is collected from many sources, even commercial sites like Amazon.com. He used an example of a voter who subscribes to The New Yorker and drives a Volvo as opposed to one who reads Field & Stream and drives a Dodge truck. Only the latter would get a call.

Another speaker, Edens Davis, a Republican Party strategist from Georgia, told the crowd that identifying voters and turning them out is key to the 2012 election. Proper groundwork, he said, “will make sure Barack Obama does not win again, and Democrats and liberal Democrats are defeated.” An efficient voter ID program, Davis added, “will wipe the floor with Democrats and liberals and all the kind of people who don’t agree with our agenda.”

Despite its obvious partisan goals, the Coalition is reaching out to churches. The group wants a chapter liaison to every conservative church. One woman in the audience suggested dumping names and addresses from church directories into the Coalition’s voter databases.

As a 501(c)(4) organization, the Faith & Freedom Coalition (FFC) is allowed to endorse candidates. Houses of worship, however, are flatly prohibited from engaging in such partisan activity. Violations can result in loss of tax-exempt status.

When he ran TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition back in the 1990s, FFC Chairman Ralph Reed worked assiduously to draft churches into a right-wing political machine. Today, assisted by some new technology – you’ll get a tweet as well as a postcard and a voter guide – it seems the Faith & Freedom Coalition is eager to replicate that model.