Friday, December 16, 2011

USCCB, Political Lobbyists or Advocates?: Minnesota Board Rules Anti-Gay Marriage Video as Advocacy

Here's why the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is all a-dither right now about that recent Pew Forum study that shows the USCCB occupying second place among faith-based political lobbying groups in D.C., in the amount of money it spends for political lobbying: 

The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board has just dismissed a complaint from Minneapolis attorney Kurt Anderson that the mailing of anti-gay marriage videos by the Minnesota Catholic bishops to every Catholic household in the state in 2010 constituted political lobbying.  Though the bishops sent this video out in advance of the 2010 state elections, in which only the Republican gubernatorial candidate was opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples, the Board has concluded that there's insufficient evidence that the bishops intended to engage in political lobbying with their video.  

This despite the fact that the bishops are now following the 2010 video campaign (which did not succeed in placing the Republican candidate in the governor's office) by participating in a drive to amend the state constitution in 2012 to outlaw same-sex civil marriage . . . .  

And so this is why the media spokesperson for the USCCB, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, is seeking to push the distinction between lobbying and advocacy as the public scrutinizes the huge amounts of money the bishops are spending for their political efforts.  If one relegates something like the anti-gay marriage video of the Minnesota bishops to the advocacy side of the ledger, it appears that the amount the bishops are spending in overt political lobbying designed to influence the political process is diminished.

I suspect that no matter what the Minnesota Board concludes, a growing number of citizens will conclude that actions like sending out politically-oriented videos in advance of a gubernatorial election do, in fact, constitute overt political lobbying.  And that the attempt to classify such overt actions of political lobbying as political advocacy is an invidious distinction.

And that this distinction--and the lobbying it covers up as benign advocacy--needs to keep being challenged.

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