One of the ways you can tell it is a national election year is that leftwing Catholic political organizations re-emerge with new strategies, new funding streams, and sometimes even new names. But while the names may change, the agenda remains the same: to elect Democrats who support a right to abortion.
This con game began during the 2004 presidential campaign with the creation of the so-called Catholic Voting Project. The backers of it stated that they simply wanted “to promote the US Catholic bishops’ 2003 document Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility” and “encourage a dialogue which would allow Catholics to learn how their political views matched up to those of the bishops.” But the reality was that the Catholic Voting Project served as a front for electing “prochoice” Democrats.
After Senator John Kerry lost his presidential bid, Chris Korzen, one of the leaders of the Catholic Voting Project, blamed the defeat on Kerry’s “messaging problems” about abortion. Korzen vowed to reframe the abortion debate to the benefit of pro-choicers.
A master at sophistry and community organizing—Korzen, a Holy Cross College graduate and former labor activist—realized that the cover had been blown on the Catholic Voting Project and resolved to create a new front group. Korzen and his colleagues appeared to disband, but kept the same agenda and leadership, reconstituting the Catholic Voting Project under the new name, Catholics United.
Korzen and his allies also formed the George Soros-subsidized Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. The two organizations then proceeded to obscure the debate over abortion as much as possible by propagandizing to the effect that Democrats intended to reduce the rate of abortion through anti poverty measures.
SUCCESS AND STUMBLES
Until recently, this con game worked very well. During the months leading up to the 2008 presidential election, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good was successful in attracting large donors, such as the late Smith Bagley, a major Democratic fundraiser who came close to matching Soros with grants from his Arca Foundation. In fact, until 2010, Bagley’s third wife, Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, a longtime Democratic Party fundraiser, was so enamored of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good that she not only funneled thousands of dollars to the organization but also served as chair of its board. Describing herself as a “staunch Irish Catholic,” Bagley also donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to Planned Parenthood and the anti-Catholic group People for the American Way.
These were exciting days for the Democratic Party and their progressive Catholic backers, who not only saw Obama win with Catholic votes, but also saw many pro-choice Democrats win with them too. Tom Perriello, DVirginia, one of the founders of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, narrowly won a congressional seat in Virginia in 2008 by convincing voters that he was more committed to reducing abortions than his Republican opponent.
But things began to fall apart in 2009, as Catholic voters began to realize that they had been conned into voting for the “abortion reduction” strategy of the Democrats. By the summer of 2010, it was clear that Tom Perriello, and other progressive Democrats like him, were looking at dismal poll numbers and would probably be ejected from office.
Perriello’s turf, the traditionally Republican 5th District in Virginia, is solidly pro-life. Even in 2008, Perriello only won by a slim margin. By July of 2010, SurveyUSA conducted a poll of likely voters and found that Republican challenger Robert Hurt was ahead of Perriello by double digits. Hurt had the support of 58 percent of likely voters, while Perriello had garnered support from less than 35 percent of likely voters.
Compounding matt ers was the fact that, by early September, voters learned that the rate of poverty had gone up under the Obama administration, generating the largest increase since poverty data began to be collected in the 1950s.
In order to keep candidates like Perriello in office, Catholics United realized that it had to conduct serious damage control. Toward that end, Catholics United spent much of the late summer and early fall of 2010 telling Catholic voters that they and their bishops had just “misunderstood” the newly passed health care reform legislation.
Catholics United has organized protests against those who say that Obamacare allows federal funding for abortion. The group routinely cites support for Obamacare by Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association as its evidence that abortion funding is not part of the reform. Korzen asserts that the “anti-health care reform activists are either woefully ignorant of the legislation or willfully misleading the public.”
After receiving a new infusion of cash for the 2010 campaign season, Catholics United announced a “$500,000 campaign to defend health care reform supporters from religiousright att acks.” Pledging an “innovative, multifaceted campaign” to defend the records of several members of Congress who voted for final passage of health care reform, Catholics United promised to “educate constituents of John Boccieri (D-Ohio), Kathy Dahlkemper (D Pennsylvania), Steve Driehaus (DOhio), and Tom Perriello (D-Virginia).”
On its website, Catholics United states that it will continue to counter the “false claim that the reform act allows federal funding of abortion.” At an event for Dahlkemper, the group criticized the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List for claiming that elective abortions are being funded through the legislation, dismissing the group as a “Republican- affiliated partisan front group which uses issues like abortion to confuse voters and to score cheap political points.”
As “proof” that Obama’s health care reform does not permit federal funding for abortion, Catholics United’s website claims, “Numerous health care policy experts, including the Catholic Health Association, have determined that health care reform does not permit abortion funding.”
In addition to helping Dahlkemper, members of Catholics United held public gatherings for Driehaus and Perriello. At each event, Catholics United cited Sister Keehan’s Catholic Health Association to burnish its propaganda.
At the same time that Catholics United appeared to be ramping up its election strategies for 2010 and beyond, its even more sinister sister organization started to fade away. Jack Smith, of the Diocese of Kansas City, Missouri’s Catholic Key, blogged that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good appears to be “going out of business.” Smith reported that the group’s phones had been disconnected and the names of all of its staff members—including their new executive director—had disappeared from its website. While the website is still up, it has not been updated since June. The group has played no visible role in the 2010 campaign cycle, but many of its staff members have migrated to yet another Soros-supported organization, Faith in Public Life.
Why is Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good disappearing when it is still so solvent? This can only be explained by its tax status. As a 501c-3 organization, Catholics in Alliance was always more successful than Catholics United in terms of receiving funding, because its donors can claim a deduction against personal income tax. But since it is a 501c-3, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good is restricted in how much political and legislative lobbying activities it may conduct under IRS rules. In contrast, Catholics United is a 501c-4 organization, and thus can actively lobby for candidates, as it has been doing for several years now.
Where Catholics United got so much cash so quickly to elect Democrats in 2010 is also an interesting question. A review of the group’s most recent IRS 990 forms reveals that until this year it had so litt le cash on hand that it fi led IRS-EZ forms.
In 2007, Catholics United reported only $38,270 in total revenue, and its executive director, Chris Korzen, received no salary. Meanwhile, that same year Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good reported income of $1,129,187 and paid Chris Korzen a salary of $84,821. Korzen claimed on his IRS form to have worked fulltime for Catholics United in 2007 for free, yet the IRS 990 form submitt ed by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good claims Korzen received his salary for working full-time (40 hours per week) for that organization during the same year.
A NEW COVER
Meanwhile, many of the staff members for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good have moved to Faith in Public Life, which is led by Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical. Just a few months ago, John Gehring, formerly an assistant media director at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, left his media messaging position at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to become the senior writer for Faith in Public Life. Gehring also blogs at God’s Politics, a site run by Wallis.
In what appears to be a major consolidation of faith-based organizations, Faith in Public Life now houses not only what had been Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good but also the organization Faithful America. Not coincidentally, Tom Perriello, that nowvulnerable Democratic congressman from the 5th District in Virginia, is one of the founders of Faithful America. (Faithful America was founded in 2004 as a “communications and organizing resource center dedicated to helping faith leaders reclaim the values debate in America for justice, compassion, and the common good.”)
Like Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Faith in Public Life has benefited greatly from the generosity of George Soros. But Jim Wallis does not like to be reminded of this fact. When Stephanie Block, the editor of Los Pequenos, a New Mexico-based online publication, wrote an article indicating this fact, Jason Gedeik, a spokesman for Wallis, demanded that she publish an online correction clarifying that Jim Wallis had nothing to do with establishing Faith in Public Life. Gedeik claimed in his letter to Block that “Faith in Public Life was actually established by John Podesta’s non-profit group Center for American Progress.” Block refused to post the online correction, citing the group’s own website’s description of Wallis’ role in creating Faith in Public Life.
And it does not end there. Wallis continued to deny receiving funds from George Soros through the summer of 2010, even after reporters presented him with evidence that Soros has given his organization and its magazine Sojourners several hundred thousand dollars. Not content to simply deny that he received the funds from Soros, Wallis went so far as to call anyone who stated that Soros had provided him with financial support a “liar.”
The most recent incident involved World editor Marvin Olasky, who simply reported in July 2010 that Wallis’ organization “received $200,000 from billionaire George Soros, a financier of left-wing groups that push for abortion, atheism, bigger government, and other causes.” Olasky said that he had a printout of a page from the website of Soros’ Open Society Institute that listed the grant.
When asked to respond to Olasky’s allegations in an interview for the online publication Patheos, Wallis is described by the interviewer as having “exploded” in anger saying: “It’s not hyperbole or overstatement to say that Glenn Beck lies for a living. I’m sad to see Marvin Olasky doing the same thing. No, we don’t receive money from Soros.”
Wallis continued to deny that he ever received any money from Soros, claiming that “our money comes from Christians who support us and who read Sojourners.” But Olasky simply asked his readers to go to the Open Society Institute website and see for themselves. Unfortunately, they did. The record of the grant had disappeared, but a large white space appeared where the record of the grant to Wallis had been. It would appear that someone had scrubbed the site. Electronic copies of the $200,000 Soros grant documentation, as well those of another gift of $25,000 from 2006, confirmed this, as did physical copies of these pages held by a large number of people who had already discovered the funding from Soros to Wallis.
Once Wallis was unable to continue denying the large grants from Soros, his communications manager released a statement claiming that “the first of the three grants, for $200,000, came at a time when Sojourners, according to its 2003 audited financial statement had ‘incurred a significant amount of net losses leading to a negative asset balance.’” In other words, they had bigger financial concerns than the grant of $200,000. Later, Wallis issued his own statement claiming that he should have declined to comment until he had “consulted with our staff on the details of our funding over the past several years.”
Wallis also claimed that “the allegation concerned three grants received over 10 years from the Open Society that made up the tiniest fraction of Sojourners’ funding during that decade— so small that I had not remembered them.” But as Olasky pointed out to Christianity Today, the explanation is risible: “If you’re in the red and someone comes up with $200,000, especially a billionaire, you tend not to forget that.”
Now Soros money flows through Wallis to the scrambling architects of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, who hope to pull off one last con this November.
This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Catholic World Report.