Friday, September 24, 2010

New York Times on Shadowy Army of Non-Profits Funding Republicans: The Case of the Knights of Columbus

Mike McIntire reports today in New York Times about “a shadow army of benignly titled nonprofit groups” that increasingly determine the course of American political life by stealth donations and tax-exempt partisan campaigning disguised as “issue advocacy.”  McIntyre notes that such groups have already spent more than $100 million this election cycle—mostly on behalf of Republican candidates.  As tax-exempt non-profits, these political lobbying bodies do not have to report their sources of income or be transparent and accountable to the public for how they use money to influence the political process.

As I read McIntire’s article, it strikes me that one can point to a Catholic story unfolding right now in the American political arena, which illustrates the use of tax-exempt non-profit (Catholic) money to try to sway the political process in a partisan direction.   As I noted recently,  in 2009, the Catholic fraternal organization the Knights of Columbus gave almost $1.5 million dollars to the anti-gay organization the National Organization for Marriage.

As Timothy Kincaid notes in a Box Turtle Bulletin posting to which the previous link points, in 2009, the Knights of Columbus made $34.6 million in donations, of which some $3 million went to charitable causes.  But in the same year, the Knights donated $4.7 million to anti-gay groups including NOM.

And now this powerful, wealthy Catholic non-profit, which is ostensibly not a political lobbying body, is right in the thick of the attempt of Minnesota Catholic bishops to influence the coming election in their state, by mailing 400,000 anti-gay marriage videos to Catholics in Minnesota.  I discussed this story yesterday, noting Michael Bayly’s outstanding coverage of and commentary about it at his Wild Reed blog (links to Michael's postings are in the Bilgrimage posting to which I've just directed readers).  (Also see Colleen Kochivar-Baker's insightful comments on Nienstedt's politicking at Enlightened Catholicism.)

As Michael notes, the Knights of Columbus produced the video that the Minnesota bishops are sending to Catholic households as the elections near.  Archbishop Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis has indicated that a funder who wishes to remain anonymous donated the money for this project—and Nienstedt claims he does not know how much it cost to produce and distribute the video, though various sources have estimated the figure at around a million dollars.

And here’s the point I want to make about this project: it’s overtly political, despite Nienstedt’s protestations to the contrary.  As a Minnesota Public Radio report on the videos note, the Catholic bishops of Minnesota are lobbying for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in their state.

And the video explicitly states this, and specifically targets the Democratic Farmer-Labor legislator who is attempting to place a bill legalizing same-sex marriage before the state legislature.  The Minnesota Public Radio report states,

Nienstedt begins the video by telling viewers that some legislators want to change state law to allow same-sex couples to marry. Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009, and last spring a hearing was held on a similar bill in the House. No votes have been taken on either bill.

Note the timing of the release of this Knights of Columbus-produced video: it’s blanketing Catholic Minnesota households right on the eve of an election in which the state’s Democrat candidate for governor Mark Dayton and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner both support same-sex marriage, while the Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer opposes it.

Through the Catholic bishops of Minnesota, the Knights of Columbus—an ostensibly apolitical, charity- focused non-profit—and a donor who prefers to hide his or her identity are pouring a huge sum of money into a project designed to drive Catholic voters to the polls to vote for the Republican candidate for governor.  This is a blatant example of how non-profits, including faith-based ones, are using their tax-exempt status, and availing themselves of all the shields that this status creates between them and public disclosure, to play politics.

On behalf of the Republican party.

When one considers the cross-over between the Knights of Columbus and the Chamber of Commerce in states like Minnesota, where many Catholic men belong to and are active in both organizations, and when one begins to understand how both of these organizations are now fronting for the Republican party, is it any wonder that our political process is a mess?  The future of the nation is being determined by powerful, wealthy donors who hide their identity behind religious masks, and who use religious groups to promote the goals of a single political party.

With no concern for the well-being of the nation as a whole or for the common good.  But with a strong concern to impose the views and agenda of a minority of citizens on the entire nation.

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