You can always tell when it’s election time in Alabama. The red, white, and blue “vote for me” signs start popping up along the highways. Television ads with their mind numbing “I am more conservative than my opponent” mantra start hitting the airways. And the Christian Coalition mails out their candidate surveys.
Ostensibly the surveys are part of a voter education effort whereby the Coalition gathers information about candidates’ beliefs on a range of issues important to Christians. This information is pared down and presented in the form of a voter guide. The guides are normally distributed in churches on the Sunday before Election Day. This allows virtually no time for candidates to respond or refute any information that the Coalition may have distorted or misrepresented.
And it’s very possible that distortion and misrepresentation can occur. This year the survey is made up of over seventy questions. The resulting voter guide, however, will likely feature only four or five carefully selected hot button issues that will serve to put the Coalition candidates in the best possible light.
Technically, the Christian Coalition of Alabama is a 501c4 non-profit, which means they can endorse candidates if they choose. However, on their website they claim that they do not. But with a wink and a nod, and a weighted voter guide, it’s always easy to figure out which candidates carry the Coalition seal of approval. And when they brag about helping elect certain conservative candidates, well the cat is really out of the bag.
The Coalition does not actually mislead the public about their stance because they never come out and say, “We endorse so-and-so.” But the weighted voter guide with its obvious bias is more than enough to raise questions about the Christian Coalition’s integrity.
All of this is in addition to the unwillingness of the Coalition to disclose the source of their funding.
Revelations this past year of Ralph Reed’s ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has a Christian Coalition connection. Reed, of course, was formerly the head of the national Christian Coalition. Allegations have been made that some of the money from gambling interests in Mississippi and Louisiana found its way into the coffers of the Christian Coalition in Alabama to oppose gambling interests here.
This activity may not rise to the level of an illegal act, but it is certainly questionable behavior for a group who has as part of their identity the name of Jesus.
If the Christian Coalition wants to present itself as a Christian group, and invoke the name of Jesus as their standard, then some drastic reform is needed. First of all, disclose funding sources. Faith based non-profits like Alabama Arise and Greater Birmingham Ministries make regular public statements about where their money comes from. Why can’t the Christian Coalition do the same thing? In fact, it ought to be a state law. Citizens have a right to know who is funding efforts to affect our state government.
And the CCA needs to decide once for all whether they are a voter education group or a political action committee. Voter education is a worthy goal, but it should be carried out in a non-partisan manner. Candidate surveys should be designed to elicit and present actual information and not just weighted information designed to advance the cause of pre-ordained candidates.
Politics can be a rough and dirty business. The faith community is in a place to make the process better, but not if we get down in the dirt ourselves.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.