Religious Lobbying Rampant in Washington

The Pew Forum released a new study that shows religious organizations spend nearly $400 million a year on lobbying legislators in Washington, a massive increase over the last 40 years.

The number of organizations engaged in religious lobbying or religion-related advocacy in Washington, D.C., has increased roughly fivefold in the past four decades, from fewer than 40 in 1970 to more than 200 today. These groups collectively employ at least 1,000 people in the greater Washington area and spend at least $390 million a year on efforts to influence national public policy. As a whole, religious advocacy organizations work on about 300 policy issues. For most of the past century, religious advocacy groups in Washington focused mainly on domestic affairs. Today, however, roughly as many groups work only on international issues as work only on domestic issues, and nearly two-thirds of the groups work on both.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; that’s what the First Amendment means when it says that we have the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Religious organizations can advocate for policies along with everyone else. But it does underscore the need to balance that off. Very few groups in DC work on behalf of secular Americans, and they aren’t anywhere near as well-funded as religious groups.


  1. Erp says

    I should point that Pew included the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America in their survey. A few of the interreligious groups might include large numbers of humanists such as People for the American Way (it is included because of its advocacy of religious freedom).

    AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) was by far the largest in dollars spent on advocacy followed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (though not all groups reported advocacy expenditures). (The Pew site allows you to find out details.)

  2. harold says

    One interpretation of this is that the influence of religion is implicitly waning.

    The whole “religious right” movement is an opportunistic backlash against the widespread acceptance of things like contraception, improved status of women, people known to be gay having at least the rights to support and house themselves without being subjected to arbitrary persecution, and so on.

    People who spend $400M a year in a (frequently futile) effort to influence public policy could be thought of as somewhat desperate people.

    Caveat – This is not intended to deny that the religious right is a major threat, nor to disagree with the point about imbalance.

    Disclosure – I am not religious but not anti-religious; I support everyone’s right to live and believe as they see fit; what I object to is authoritarian efforts to coerce people into genuflecting to religious observations or beliefs, whether by denying some people the right to the legal benefits of marriage, attempts to deny or distort science in public schools, or in any other similar way.

  3. Pinky says

    Peicurmudgeon makes a damn good point; it is another reason to jerk the tax exemption.

    Another thing that eats my lunch is the hypocrisy; this news, like the news of the Mormon Church spending untold millions to defeat prop 8 in California, is obscene. What happened to feed & clothe the poor?

    I’ll check, but I don’t think their bible has Jesus saying: “Those who shall take money from their flocks and give it to influence the elite have a place in heaven.

  4. says

    Disclosure – I am not religious but not anti-religious; I support everyone’s right to live and believe as they see fit;

    Er, those of us who are “anti-religious” also support everyone’s legal rights to live and believe as they see fit. Opposing religions intellectually, morally, and socially is not the same thing as opposing anyone’s legal rights to free belief and exercise of religion.

  5. laurentweppe says

    AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) was by far the largest in dollars spent on advocacy

    Wait a minute: since when is AIPAC a religious lobby? I thought they were into the “Jewish People is no mere religion but a coherent ethnic entity, history be damned” schtick.

  6. tomh says

    Religious organizations can advocate for policies along with everyone else.

    They can, of course, but just like in almost all other US laws, there are different rules for religion. When the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 was passed, an exception was make for lobbying communications made by a “church, its integrated auxiliary or a convention or association of churches.” In other words, churches don’t have to report how much they spend on lobbying. This makes it difficult to find out just how much churches do actually spend, and the $400 million estimate is actually a very conservative number.

    One of the most influential lobbyists in Washington is the National Association of Evangelicals. From a publication of theirs, “”We make up fully one quarter of all voters in the most powerful nation in history. Never before has God given American evangelicals such an awesome opportunity to shape public policy.” Politicians listen to those kind of numbers, not to mention hefty campaign contributions.

  7. tomh says

    Shouldn’t this remove any tax exempt status they have?

    Churches could lose their tax-exempt status if they engage in “substantial” levels of lobbying, but there is no bright-line definition of what “substantial” lobbying actually means and there is little enforcement of this rule. According to IRS Publication 1828, the IRS “considers a variety of factors, including the time devoted (by both compensated and volunteer workers) and the expenditures devoted by the organization to the activity, when determining whether the lobbying activity is substantial.” Since churches are tax-exempt and don’t report lobbying totals, it is very rare that they are even looked at. There is basically no accountability.

  8. feministwhore says

    Ugh gross. Just got done reading the pdf.

    Not only are religious institutions untaxed, they set up these 501(c)3s so they can receive even more tax breaks (tax breaks that they are given because they actually aren’t supposed to do a lot of lobbying) – and THEN they are actually given government grants for a lot of the ‘work’ they do. Seriously, this 501c3 shit is a huge racket.

  9. heddle says

    $400 million? Wonder how many of the poor that would feed? I think they made baby jebus cry.

    Spot on.

  10. zarathustramike says

    Thankfully, I’m getting old now, so I probably won’t live long enough to see this once great Nation become a theocracy….. And if it does, and I’m unlucky enough to have to still be alive,well then, there’s always suicide. Christians… STFU!!!!

  11. John Hinkle says

    $400 million for lobbying? Just think of the salaries of the leadership.

    God is a first class grifter in a nice suit, and he’s always strapped for cash.


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