The closure of the offices of the Democrat-leaning group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) has prompted debate over the role of partisan political funding for groups targeting Catholic voters. While one analyst says that Republican-leaning Catholic groups are better funded, a Catholic Republican disputes his claim.
Catholics in Alliance closed its Washington, D.C. office at the end of July and no longer has paid staff.
Dr. Liza Cahill of Boston University, a member of CACG's advisory board, explained to CNA in an e-mail earlier this month that the group "is in a holding pattern and staff have gone into positions at similar organizations." Subsequent communication with the group revealed that it had moved to a midtown D.C. office and is planning a series of blog posts on social justice issues.
Fred Rotondaro, chairman of the CACG board of directors and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told the National Catholic Reporter he is working on new fundraising and is planning to communicate through the internet and e-mail. He said subscribers to the group’s mailing list numbers about 40,000.
According to Rotondaro, the group was formed in 2005 after the presidential election “when I think a number of progressive Catholics came to the belief that social justice ideas were not being very seriously considered by a lot of Catholics when they came to voting.”
In his opinion, CACG is a pro-life organization but many of its members strongly favor Cardinal Bernardin’s “seamless garment” approach to political issues.
He claimed there is “a lot less enthusiasm” because self-described progressive Catholics do not feel they have to worry now that Barack Obama is president.
Fr. William J. Byron, S.J., of St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, a member of the CACG’s board of directors, told the National Catholic Reporter “the money just wasn’t there” to continue major operations.
Also noting the lack of funds, Fr. Thomas J. Reese, S.J., a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, claimed that Republican-supporting Catholics are willing to finance their organizations but there is no comparable support for self-described progressive Catholic groups who want to address public policy issues.
He said that the Republican-oriented Susan B. Anthony List plans to spend $6 million on midterm elections this fall, while Democrat-leaning Catholic groups “don’t have the money or the manpower to have much effect.”
“We don’t have a Democratic Karl Rove who sees the importance of the Catholic vote for the Democratic Party and is willing to use his political muscle and his financial muscle to support a strategy that reaches out to Catholics,” the priest continued, referring to the Republican political strategist.
Because of non-profit rules, CACG could not engage in partisan political campaigning or lobbying. However, the groups Catholic Democrats and Catholics United can engage in such lobbying for their favored candidates.
The latter group has sought donations for a $500,000 campaign to back Catholic Democratic congressmen who backed the health care legislation passed earlier this year. Some of these candidates have been targeted by the Susan B. Anthony List, which sees their vote as a betrayal of pro-life principle.
Writing at InsideCatholic.com, Catholic commentator Deal Hudson responded critically to the claims that Republican Catholics were better funded. He said that for several decades Republican-leaning Catholics have tried to raise money for an “independent political effort” but none have made much progress and most “failed completely.”
“One decisive factor was lack of consistent funding.”
According to Hudson, the only successful recent Republican Catholic effort was the one he headed as chair of Catholic outreach for George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns. He claimed this effort was able to raise money only because it was attached to the Republican National Committee (RNC) in 2000 and to the administration of a sitting president in 2004.
“Karl Rove had asked me originally to create an independent Catholic group in 2000, but I couldn't find the willing donors,” he reported, saying that Rove has “moved on” and likely expects Catholics who are Republicans to continue their work on their own.
Responding to Fr. Reese’s comments about the financial backing for Catholic Republicans would have been “exactly right” if he were talking about evangelical Republicans. He also noted that the Susan B. Anthony List is not a Catholic organization but “pro-life and pro-family.”
In Hudson’s view, Fr. Reese’s claims about Karl Rove’s involvement would have been relevant ten or six years ago but not today.
Republican-leaning Catholics are “struggling to find funding just as much as our ‘progressive’ counterparts, and, what’s more, we don’t get a penny from George Soros or organized labor,” Hudson commented at InsideCatholic.com.
Tax records show that the Open Society Institute, founded by the atheist billionaire financier George Soros, gave at least $150,000 to CACG four years ago. The AFL-CIO and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) have also donated tens of thousands of dollars to the group. So too has the Heinz Family Foundation, which is headed by 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s wife Teresa Heinz-Kerry.