The Associated Press reports that the Christian Coalition is not merely losing supporters, it is losing entire chapters
Three disgruntled state affiliates have severed ties with the Christian Coalition of America, one of the nation’s most powerful conservative groups during the 1990s but now buffeted by complaints over finances, leadership and its plans to veer into nontraditional policy areas.
“It’s a very sad day for our people, but a liberating day,” said John Giles, president of the coalition’s Alabama chapter, which announced Wednesday that it was renaming itself and splitting from the national organization. The Iowa and Ohio chapters took similar steps this year.
According to the Montgomery Advertiser, the split between the national organization and the Alabama chapter stems from opposition to the organization’s settlement with the IRS over its use of voter guides, its support for Alabama Gov. Bob Riley’s tax package, and its recent foray into issues not traditionally of importance to the Right, such as the minimum wage, the environment and “net neutrality.”
The Alabama chapter may have also had a more a personal reason to sever ties with the organization, considering that is had been cynically manipulated by the Coalition’s former Executive Director Ralph Reed in his efforts to protect Jack Abramoff’s casino-owning clients
In 1999, Abramoff subcontracted Reed’s firm to generate opposition to attempts to legalize a state-sponsored lottery and video poker in Alabama, an effort that was bankrolled by the Choctaw Tribe in order to eliminate competition to its own casino in neighboring Mississippi. Reed promised that Century Strategies was “opening the bomb bays and holding nothing back” and his firm ultimately received $1.3 million from the Choctaws for this effort, which included engaging the Alabama chapter of the Christian Coalition, as well as influential right-wing figures such as James Dobson, to work to defeat the proposals.
The strategy had one small problem: the Alabama Christian Coalition had an explicit policy that it “will not be the recipient of any funds direct or in-direct or any in-kind direct or indirect from gambling interests.” (Emphasis in original.) Knowing this, Reed and Abramoff worked to hide the source of the $850,000 paid to the Christian Coalition for its anti-gambling efforts by funneling money from the Choctaws through Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington, DC anti-tax organization headed by their old College Republican friend Grover Norquist. When asked why the tribe’s money had to be funneled through conduits such as ATR, a Choctaw representative stated it was because Reed did not want it known that casino money was funding his operation: “It was our understanding that the structure was recommended by Jack Abramoff to accommodate Mr. Reed’s political concerns.”
Nonetheless, Reed repeatedly assured the Christian Coalition that the funding for its work was not coming from gambling interests. This was technically true as the Choctaws were paying for it out of their non-gambling revenue, though their objective was obviously to protect their own gambling interests and revenue. According to emails obtained during a Senate investigation into Abramoff’s activities and reported in the media, Reed was well aware of who was paying for this anti-gambling effort. When the information began to surface in the press and the Christian Coalition learned of the source of the $850,000 it had received, it demanded an explanation from Reed who apologized in a letter saying he should have “explained that the contributions came from the Choctaws,” this admitting that he had been fully aware of the source of the funding. But by the time Reed offered his “after-the-fact apology,” the gambling initiative had been defeated and the Christian Coalition had been duped.