State affiliates of the Religious Right powerhouse Focus on the Family (FOF) have begun to offer special training for people interested in seeking public office.
FOF’s Citizen magazine reported last month on seminars held by affiliates in Colorado, Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. The Colorado event attracted more than 70 people from eight states.
“We’re not just looking to win a few races,” Jessica Langfeldt, executive director of Colorado Family Action, said. “We’re looking to build a movement.”
Mark Montini, a Georgia-based political and communications consultant, was recruited to run the event. Montini’s Web site says he is “considered by many to be one of America’s brightest leaders in the areas of communication, marketing and politics.”
Montini told attendees to be in it for the long haul.
“We put too much emphasis on who wins or loses,” Montini said. “But what we’re really after is cultural change. We’re not here just to win campaigns; we’re here to change the culture. Campaigns are simply a piece of a larger puzzle.”
Montini said many people have avoided politics, considering it “dirty and all that.” He added, “Political campaigns aren’t the end-all, but they’re our weakest link right now. And they’re the only way we can hold elected officials accountable. It’s a piece of the puzzle we must have if we’re going to change the culture.”
The story also quoted Rep. Bob Brechtel, a Republican who was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives in 2002. Brechtel said, “My primary purpose in being here has been a long-term strategy in turning our churches and our culture around.”
In Wisconsin, Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, said her seminar led to a higher profile for her organization.
“The content and quality of the seminar really got people’s attention,” Appling said. “Most people just assumed it was going to be a typical campaign seminar. They were a little surprised at the level of training and the fact that it’s part of a larger, aggressive strategy to change the culture.
“The seminar,” Appling added, “made clear that we’re serious about changing the culture. It identified us as a serious player in the political realm.”
FOF is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, so it does much of its more overtly political activity through FOF Action, a 501(c)(4) entity that is allowed more election involvement under federal tax law.
Aside from training potential candidates, FOF Action has stepped up its intervention in political races. Last year, the group targeted Rep. Bernie Buescher, a member of the Colorado House of Representatives, because of his support for a gay rights law. Buescher was defeated in a close race.
In a letter to supporters, Tom Minnery, senior vice president for Focus on the Family Action, boasted that Buescher’s defeat came “following a major media campaign by Focus Action to expose his pro-gay activist votes.”