White House “Faith Czar” James Towey insisted recently that there is no partisan political agenda behind the “faith-based” initiative, but critics say the facts suggest otherwise.
In a late-July meeting with African-American pastors at the White House that featured President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Towey denied the initiative had political overtones.
“He [Bush] is trying to keep politics out of it, but in this town that’s not easy,” Towey said. “Our office is not about the politics. It’s about the compassion.”
Critics noted, however, that since taking office, Bush has repeatedly used surrogates like Towey to seek votes in the African-American community, a constituency that votes heavily Democratic. Staffers in Towey’s office have held seminars in urban areas and strongly implied that faith-based money for churches will be forthcoming as long as the Republi¬cans are in office.
In 2002, Towey traveled around the country to states with close Senate and House races, appearing alongside Republican candidates, spreading the message that federal funds would be available if those candidates were elected or re-elected.
And, despite Towey’s avowal of non-partisanship, the meetings with black pastors come during a time when Ken Mehlman, Republican National Committee chairman, is conducting a highly visible outreach to African Americans.
Mehlman, who frequently speaks to black pastors, argues that blacks belong in the Republican Party, which he calls their historic home. Many blacks were Republicans during the post-Civil War period but abandoned the party when it adopted the “Southern Strategy” of pursuing the votes of rural whites during the Civil Rights era.
During the recent meeting with black pastors, Bush announced plans to hold a summit in The Washington Times that he lent his name and White House credentials to a fund-raising effort sponsored by a conservative Catholic publication.
Crisis magazine and the Morley Institute for Church and Culture had advertised a golf outing at a country club in Haymarket, Va., slated for early June. The event was to include a “White House briefing” featuring Towey buin March to urge corporate America to divert more funding to the faith-based community. Towey asserted that many corporations have internal policies barring aid to religious groups. Bush, he said, will press to change that.
Towey’s claims to be non-political also don’t jibe with recent revelations t was cancelled after The Times broke the story.
The newspaper subsequently reported that similar briefings were held in 2003 and 2004, with attendees paying $1,500 to $6,000 to attend. Towey took part in both events and was joined by White House religious liaison Tim Goeglein in 2003. At that time, Crisis was edited by Deal Hudson, a conservative Catholic activist and sometimes Bush advisor who stepped down after revelations that he had had a sexual relationship with an 18-year-old college student in 1994. Hudson was 45 at the time and teaching at Fordham University.