Christian Coalition Voter Guides Were Partisan, Inaccurate, AU Says

Trying to regain its stature as a Religious Right powerhouse, the Christian\n Coalition went into overdrive this election cycle, printing millions of voter\n guides in favor of President George W. Bush and other GOP candidates.

The Coalition, founded by TV preacher Pat Robertson, asked churches across\n the country to help distribute the guides in order to sway the outcome of the\n elections. Americans United responded by asking clergy to reject the guides,\n insisting that they were biased.

“The Coalition’s driving mission is to elect favored politicians\n to public office,” said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “Churches\n should throw the Coalition’s voter guides in the trash.”

Continued Lynn, “Churches are tax-exempt and may not intervene in partisan\n politics. Churches that hand out partisan literature are asking for trouble\n from the IRS.”

The Coalition claims it printed and distributed 30 million guides, but critics\n are skeptical of that figure. Even if that many were printed, a far fewer number\n were probably distributed.

Religion News Service reported on a Coalition chapter in Clinton County,\n Pa., that received 60 boxes of the guides. Chapter President Jon Cassel said\n that was 59 boxes more than he needed. Cassel said he planned to share the\n guides with pastors in neighboring counties and recycle the rest.

The Coalition also encountered opposition from Americans United. AU and its\n chapters distributed over 80,000 informational letters to educate religious\n leaders about the requirements of federal tax law, which includes a ban on\n candidate endorsements by churches and other tax-exempt groups. As a result\n of the Americans United mailing (and similar mailings in previous years), many\n churches refused to disseminate the Coalition’s partisan guides.

Christian Coalition President Roberta Combs expressed concern about Ameri­cans\n United’s success at the Coalition’s 2004 “Road to Victory” Conference\n in late September. She told attendees that because of AU’s work, many\n churches in 2000 refused to distribute the guides, forcing the Coalition to\n hand them out at “Wal-Marts and service stations.”

At the conference, Christian Coalition Field Director Bill Thomson candidly\n admitted that the guides are intended to affect the outcome of elections. He\n boasted that the guides can “change an election between 5 and 7 percentage\n points,” calling them the group’s “B-2 bomber.”

Americans United charges that Coali­tion guides are intentionally designed\n to appear objective, but in fact distort the candidates’ records and\n positions. In this year’s guide covering the presidential race, for example,\n 15 issues were listed. The topics chosen reflected a conservative agenda, and\n they were worded from a right-wing perspective such as “unrestricted\n abortion on demand,” “educational choice for parents (vouchers),” “adoption\n of children by homosexuals,” “affirmative action programs that\n provide preferential treatment” and “permanent elimination of the\n marriage penalty tax.”

According to the Associated Press, Bush’s campaign answered a Christian\n Coalition questionnaire for the guides, while Democrat John F. Kerry’s\n campaign did not. Despite this fact, responses are listed for Kerry for 10\n of the guide’s line items, while “no response” is listed\n for the other five.

Thus a casual reader is given the impression that Kerry actually responded\n to a Coalition questionnaire and opposes “permanent elimination of the\n death tax” and “permanent elimination of the marriage penalty tax,” but\n had no response to “placing US troops under UN control” or “adoption\n of children by homosexuals.”

In some cases, the guides were simply inaccurate. Bush was listed as supporting “federal\n funding for faith-based charitable organizations,” while Kerry was listed\n as having “no response.” In fact, Kerry announced during the campaign\n that he supports faith-based funding as long as constitutional safeguards are\n observed.

The guide also inaccurately portrayed Kerry’s position on permanently\n extending the $1,000 child tax credit. Kerry was listed as opposing the extension,\n but Michael Meehan, a senior official for the Ker­ry campaign, called that “patently\n false.”

“Kerry has voted 19 times to extend the child tax credit while in the\n Senate,” Meehan told Religion News Service.