Friday, December 9, 2011

USCCB Continues to Pressure Pew Foundation about Political Lobbying Data

And since A leads to B and C is connected to D, as I write about the behavior of the U.S. Catholic bishops toward their brothers and sisters who happen to be gay, I want to make mention of Kevin Clarke's latest posting at the America blog about the recent Pew Foundation report that finds the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ranking second among faith-based lobbying groups in D.C. in the amount of money it uses to engage in political lobbying.  I've blogged about the Pew report a number of times (here and here), and I've noted the pushback from the USCCB about the report's findings re: which Clarke is now reporting.

As my posting about that pushback suggests, the bishops are incensed at Pew's report and are challenging the data accumulated by Pew.  They maintain that their political lobbying efforts are distinct from their political advocacy efforts, and that Pew has overstated the amounts of money at their disposal as they engage in lobbying.  

It appears from what Clarke is now reporting that Pew may well back down as it deals with the USCCB. And I find that not surprising.  In fact, I rather anticipated that development.  The bishops are a powerful political lobby with powerful people behind them, and when they shout, people tend to listen.  

But I'd like to address the way in which Kevin Clarke frames what's going on with the bishops and Pew.  Clarke suggests that those concerned about the significant amounts the U.S. Catholic bishops expend to engage in political lobbying are motivated in large part by a gotcha mentality.  We who have expressed concerns about how the bishops influence the political process and how much money they spend as they do so are, per Clarke, out to get the bishops because we have ideological axes to grind vis-a-vis the bishops.

I'd propose that there might be another way of framing the concern of many Catholics (and other American citizens) about the bishops' lobbying efforts and the money they use to engage in political lobbying.  This particular frame would begin with noting the bishops' exercised response to the data Pew has released.  Why is it, I wonder, that of all the faith-based lobbying groups ranked by this Pew report, only the U.S. Catholic bishops have been vocal in their opposition to the Pew data, though Clarke reports that other groups have shared concerns quietly and behind the scenes?

What does the vocal opposition of the USCCB to Pew's findings indicate about what they don't particularly want American Catholics and the American public to see about their organization qua a political lobbying group and not qua a group of Christian shepherds?  I suspect what they don't want the public to recognize is how high on their list of priorities political lobbying actually is.  And how much money they divert to this effort--no matter what the final figures turn out to be as we parse and haggle about what constitutes political lobbying and what constitutes political advocacy.

The bishops seem to me to be very much hoist on their own petard with this particular controversy, and one need not introduce the hoary old specter of anti-Catholic bogeymen to account for why people--ordinary Catholics and the public at large--want to know what the bishops are doing in D.C. and how much money they spend as they do it.  No one would be asking any of these questions at all if the lobbying efforts of the bishops were not considerable, and if the money they spend as they lobby (or advocate) is not considerable.

And the fact that the bishops have created a rather embarrassing petard on which they are now hoist says quite a bit about who they are and how they function as church leaders.  About what their priorities are.  If they'd spend their time--and their money--taking care of the poor, healing the sick, clothing the naked, educating those in need of learning, tending to the elderly, welcoming the stranger, and, yes, listening to the stories of their brothers and sisters who are gay, people might well not be focusing on how the bishops play politics.

Instead, they keep on playing hardball politics.  And spending lavish amounts of money as they do so.  And trying to convince us that the hardball politics they play are all about serving moral values and promoting the mission of the church.

While they do real, perceptible harm to some human beings through their use of huge amounts of money to mount campaigns like their current nationwide media campaign to attack gay citizens and to block or remove the right of civil marriage from gay citizens.

As long as the bishops engage in political tactics that an increasing number of people see as irreputable and dirty, and as long as they divert large sums to the pursuit of these political tactics, people are going to wonder about the dirtiness of the money the bishops use in their anti-gay war (and in their equally dirty and irreputable wars against survivors of clerical sexual abuse).  And about the dirtiness of men engaging in dirty political tactics and using dirty money to pursue dirty political ends, who then want to cry foul when the public asks to scrutinize where the money comes from, how it's being used, and precisely how much money goes to these indefensible purposes.

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