November 21, 2011

Lobbying for the Faithful


Updated May 15, 2012

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Criteria for Selecting Groups

This study defines religious advocacy broadly, encompassing a wide range of efforts by organizations operating in Washington, D.C., to shape public policy on religion-related issues in the United States and abroad. It includes, but is not limited to, lobbying as strictly defined by the Internal Revenue Service – attempts to influence legislation by contacting, or urging the public to contact, legislators or their staffs in support or opposition to bills, resolutions, ballot initiatives or similar measures. In this study, religious advocacy also includes other efforts to shape public opinion or affect public policy, such as activities aimed at the White House and federal agencies, litigation designed to advance policy goals, and education or mobilization of religious constituencies on particular issues. (See “What Is Religious Advocacy?”.)

To be included in this study, an organization had to have a physical office and at least one paid employee in the greater Washington, D.C., area. It also had to meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Advocates on behalf of a particular denomination or religious tradition
  • Advocates on behalf of a constituency defined in religious terms
  • Advocates on behalf of a religious institution or group of institutions
  • Promotes religious values in public policy
  • Promotes an expressly secular or non-religious perspective on public policy
  • Encourages policymakers to integrate faith in their work

The Pew Forum’s goal was to cast a wide net and include all groups whose public policy advocacy efforts are bound up with religion. Inevitably, however, some organizations fall into a gray area. Because reasonable observers can differ over what constitutes religious advocacy, and because advocacy organizations are continually forming and dissolving, this study is best understood as an examination of a large number of religious advocacy groups in Washington, D.C., rather than as a comprehensive list of each and every religious advocacy group operating in the nation’s capital.

Information Sources

The Pew Forum used a variety of sources to identify religious advocacy organizations, including:

  • Published directories of Washington advocacy groups, particularly Washington Information Directory 2010-2011 (CQ Press)
  • The Yellow Pages, online telephone directories and websites
  • The Pew Forum’s own communications contact database
  • News articles, academic studies and books on lobbying and public policy advocacy

The main sources of information about the groups included in the study were:

  • Systematic examination of websites, mission statements, tax documents and other public records of religious advocacy groups spanning the years 2008-2010
  • Phone and email inquiries seeking information not available on some groups’ websites, such as the year in which the organization established a Washington, D.C., area office
  • Responses to a written questionnaire (additional details below)
  • In-depth interviews with the leaders of 36 organizations (additional details below)
  • First-hand observation of congressional hearings, press conferences, lobby days and other public events involving religious advocacy groups in Washington, D.C., in 2008-2010


Most religious advocacy organizations included in the study maintain websites. Though they vary in depth and sophistication, the websites were a major source of data on organizational missions, issue agendas and religious traditions. In some cases, they also provided information on organizational structures, staffing, tax status and expenditures.

Self-administered Questionnaire

While websites typically convey a religious advocacy organization’s goals, they often do not make clear how the organization tries to achieve its policy objectives. To probe further, Pew Forum researchers designed a self-administered questionnaire that was distributed to advocacy organizations by mail and email. The questionnaire included a combination of openended and closed-ended questions, and respondents were assured that their answers would be reported only in aggregate form. (See Blank Questionnaire PDF.)

Prior to sending out the final questionnaire, the Pew Forum conducted background research with a small number of groups to improve the wording of questions. The questionnaire was mailed or emailed (depending upon the format each group requested) during the week of April 13, 2009, to 183 groups that had been identified at the time. However, 35 of the 183 groups subsequently were determined to be inactive, ineligible for the study or sister organizations of other groups in the study.

The research team employed the Dillman method of attaining the highest response rate, which included three follow-up email communications after the initial distribution of the questionnaire.25 Sixty-two organizations completed and returned the questionnaire, including one group that was dropped from the study because it no longer operates a Washington office. Thus, of the 148 separate, active groups that received the questionnaire, 61 completed and returned it. These 61 groups do not necessarily represent the religious advocacy groups as a whole.


To gain deeper insights into religious advocacy, Visiting Senior Research Fellow Allen D. Hertzke developed a semi-structured interview protocol. Hertzke identified a cross-section of 55 groups reflecting a range of religious traditions, types of organizations, theological perspectives, political orientations, staff sizes and annual expenditures. One leader from each group was invited to participate in an on-the-record interview, and 36 leaders of the selected groups agreed. Interviews were conducted between early May 2009 and late July 2009. Each interview lasted about an hour and was recorded. Hertzke asked a standardized set of questions of all 36 leaders, but he also posed questions specific to each organization. (See Interview Questions PDF.)

Observations at Congressional Hearings, Lobby Day Conferences and Other Religious Meetings

Professor Hertzke also attended numerous Washington events involving religious advocacy groups in 2008-2010, including press conferences, grassroots “lobby day” events and congressional hearings at which religious leaders testified. This enabled him to observe the groups in action and to talk with activists and policymakers. Among the events he attended were the Values Voter Summit (an annual conference of social conservatives hosted by the Family Research Council); Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (an annual meeting of Catholic organizations); Ecumenical Advocacy Days (an annual event to unite and mobilize Christian activists); and Mobilization to End Poverty (a conference organized by Sojourners).

Categorizing the Advocacy Groups

Groups were categorized in two main ways: by religious tradition and by organizational structure. To determine how to categorize each group, researchers examined the groups’ websites and public documents. If those sources did not provide sufficient information to classify an organization’s religious tradition and organizational structure, researchers made telephone and email inquiries, as well as checking interview transcripts, when applicable.

Religious Tradition

The following, mutually exclusive categories of religious tradition were used:

  • Catholic
  • Evangelical Protestant
  • Mainline Protestant
  • Peace Church Protestant (Quakers and Mennonites)
  • Other Christian (Mormon, Christian Scientist, Coptic, Eastern Orthodox, historically Black Protestant Churches, Unification Church)
  • Jewish
  • Muslim
  • Other religion (Baha’i, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Scientology, Unitarian Universalist)
  • Secular or non-religious
  • Interreligious

Classifying groups into the categories of Catholic, mainline Protestant, Jewish and Muslim was a relatively straightforward process. Catholic groups typically identify their religious affiliation in their group’s name, or else it is clearly noted in their mission statements. Similarly, many mainline Protestant groups identify the denomination they represent in their group’s name, and Jewish and Muslim groups generally state their religious affiliation, as do the groups classified under the “Other Christian” or “Other religion” categories. Protestant groups in the “Peace Church” category usually highlight their pacifist stances as well as their affiliations on their websites.

The classification of evangelical Protestant groups, however, bears further explanation. While some evangelical Protestant groups clearly state their religious affiliation (examples include the Evangelical Environmental Network and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention), many groups with roots in the evangelical Protestant tradition do not include the word “evangelical” in their title or identify themselves with a particular evangelical denomination. Instead, these groups often identify themselves simply as Christian. In some cases, further examination of websites, along with interviews and telephone or email inquiries, finds clear indicators of evangelicalism, such as:

1. discussion of evangelical roots or an evangelical identity
2. current or past links to an evangelical denomination
3. a statement of faith that includes common evangelical beliefs (e.g., the Bible is the inerrant word of God, salvation comes through faith in Christ alone and Christians should adhere to the “Great Commission” to evangelize)
4. a predominately evangelical Protestant constituency composed either of individual members or of evangelical institutions, such as private evangelical Protestant schools.

The last two categories – secular and interreligious – also warrant further detail. Groups that advocate on public policy issues from an expressly secular or non-religious point of view, often in opposition to the influence of religious groups, are considered in this study to be engaged in religion-related advocacy. By similar logic, the Pew Forum treats people who are religiously unaffiliated (those who say they are atheists, agnostics or have “no particular religion”) as a religious category in its public opinion surveys.

Groups were classified as interreligious if they describe themselves as interreligious, interfaith or ecumenical groups, or if they explicitly identify their supporters as coming from multiple faith traditions. This includes groups such as the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the Save Darfur Coalition. This category also includes groups that bring together Christians from diverse denominations or traditions. For example, the membership of Eagle Forum includes both evangelicals and Catholics.

Organizational Structure

This report also divides religious advocacy groups into mutually exclusive categories of organizational structure. The categories were developed based on scholarly literature and the researchers’ assessment of the most commonly shared attributes among advocacy groups in the Washington area.26 Each group was categorized into a type according to key characteristics, such as who or what groups it represents, its main sources of funding and its official sponsorship, among other factors. Below are descriptions of each.

Represents Individual Members: These groups represent the shared interests and concerns of their members. They may affiliate with a particular religious tradition but do not represent official religious bodies, or they may be nondenominational. Religion-related professional associations are included in this category since they represent their members’ professional interests and religion-related values. Examples include the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights.

Represents Institutions: These groups are the national headquarters or national advocacy offices that represent religiously sponsored institutions, such as secondary schools, colleges, hospitals, social service agencies, broadcast media, international relief and development agencies, missionary societies and religious orders.

Represents Religious Bodies: These groups are the national headquarters or national advocacy offices of official religious bodies. Some represent only one religious tradition or denomination. Others are the national advocacy offices of inter-denominational associations that represent several bodies within a single religious tradition, such as the National Council of Churches and the National Association of Evangelicals.

Permanent Coalitions: These groups are made up of two or more organizations with a longterm commitment to shared perspectives, concerns or interests. Permanent coalitions have their own national headquarters or national advocacy offices and their own annual advocacy expenses, separate from the offices and expenses of their member organizations. This includes such groups as the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and Churches for Middle East Peace.

Think Tanks: These groups are the national headquarters or national offices of research institutes that apply religion-related principles and perspectives to policy analysis and promotion. This includes such groups as the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the Institute on Religion & Democracy.

Hybrid Groups: These groups are the national headquarters or national advocacy offices of organizations that promote religion-related perspectives or concerns and blend features of more than one structural type. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, for example, combines elements of a think tank with a robust litigation program. Hybrid groups also may advance specific causes (as individual member groups typically do) while relying principally on benefactors (as think tanks do).

Sources of Annual Advocacy Expenses Data

Because the availability and quality of financial information for religious advocacy organizations varies, not all groups could be included in this report’s analysis of advocacy spending. But researchers were able to find information on recent (2008 and/or 2009) advocacy expenses for 129 out of the 216 groups in this study.

Since this report’s definition of religious advocacy includes both direct lobbying and broader advocacy efforts to influence public policy, expenses for both 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(3) groups are included in this analysis. (See “What Is Religious Advocacy?”.) Additionally, when groups had both a 501(c)(3) and a 501(c)(4) operation, advocacy expenses for both operations were often combined. An example is Bread for the World, which operates both a registered lobby for effecting policy change and a tax-exempt educational foundation, the Bread for the World Institute, which seeks to raise the visibility of hunger issues and to educate policymakers and the public about hunger around the world.

The Internal Revenue Service’s Form 990 – the annual reporting form that most nonprofit organizations must file – was the most commonly available source of financial information.27 To obtain these documents, researchers relied primarily on GuideStar, a company that compiles public information on a large number of nonprofit organizations in an online database. Due to lag time between when groups are required to submit this information to the government and when the information becomes available on GuideStar, 2009 was the most recent year for which data on most groups were available, and for some groups the most recent filing was for 2008. Pew Forum researchers used GuideStar from mid-2008 to mid-2011 to access Form 990s.

Although nearly all groups included in this study are required to file an annual Form 990 with the IRS, recent GuideStar records were incomplete for some groups. In addition, the Form 990s did not always provide sufficient detail to extract advocacy expenses, particularly for groups whose advocacy is only part of a larger mission. In these instances, every attempt was made to locate alternative sources of reliable financial data, such as annual reports and audited financial statements. In a few cases, researchers communicated directly with a representative from the organization to obtain financial data.

Advocacy groups vary in the way they categorize and disclose expenditures in Form 990s, audited financial statements and annual reports, with some providing extensive detail and others providing only total expenditures with little breakdown. In addition, not all groups use the same accounting year when reporting expenses. Some use the calendar year; some a fiscal year beginning in July; others use a fiscal year beginning in October. For the purpose of this study, fiscal data was classified as 2008 data if it reflected the 2008 calendar year or a fiscal year starting in 2008, e.g., July 2008-June 2009 or October 2008-September 2009. This approach was selected to be consistent with the way the Form 990s categorize different fiscal years. Form 990s for 2008 had data for not only the 2008 calendar year but also for years running from October 2008 to September 2009 and from July 2008 to June 2009.

Identifying Advocacy Expenses

Determining how much groups spend to support their advocacy activities required decision rules for several different scenarios. For groups headquartered in the nation’s capital whose principal mission is advocacy, total expenditures were used. (Although an organization’s total spending may include administrative overhead and fundraising expenses, if the organization’s principal mission is advocacy, the administrative and fundraising costs are reasonably considered to be in the service of advocacy.) This category comprised the majority of groups for which recent financial data were available (91 of the 129). Examples include the Family Research Council, National Right to Life Committee, Interfaith Alliance, Bread for the World and American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

For organizations with broader missions than advocacy, researchers sought to identify the portion of each group’s total spending that corresponds to this report’s broad definition of advocacy. In some cases this was relatively simple because some groups have created separately funded organizations to carry out their public policy advocacy efforts. Examples include the Washington-based advocacy arms of certain religious denominations, such as the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church & Society. In these cases the total budget for the Washington-based advocacy program was chosen.

Many groups, however, do not have separately funded advocacy arms. In such cases, researchers looked through each group’s Form 990s, audited financial statements and/or annual reports seeking the budget categories that best reflect advocacy efforts. These categories included, but were not limited to, expenses labeled as “lobbying” or “direct lobbying.” Other relevant categories reported by various groups include: government relations, advocacy, public policy, policy activities, domestic policy, and government and international affairs.

Organizations headquartered outside Washington often do not separately list expenses for their Washington offices. Many, however, do report expenditures for some of the same categories listed above – such as government and international affairs, justice and witness, and public awareness and education – which cover expenses for their Washington offices as well as for advocacy efforts based elsewhere. Examples include the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations, the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, and the American Jewish Committee’s program in government and international affairs. It seemed reasonable to include budget totals for these categories because national headquarters spending on advocacy broadly supports the Washington-based initiatives.

Some groups report only their total advocacy expenditures; they do not separate what they spend on efforts to influence foreign governments and populations from what they spend on public policy initiatives in the United States. If there was evidence that a group’s international advocacy was essentially an adjunct to its efforts to influence U.S. policy, the expenses were included in this report’s analysis. If, conversely, an organization’s foreign advocacy efforts were its central focus, its expenditures were excluded from the listings and computations. Examples of groups whose expenditures were not included in the study for this reason are the International Justice Mission, the Institute for Global Engagement and the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy, all of which focus most of their policy initiatives abroad.

Similarly, some groups do not separately report their expenses for national, state and local advocacy efforts. If there was evidence that a group’s state and/or local public policy initiatives were part and parcel of its advocacy efforts in the nation’s capital, the comprehensive nationwide expenditure figure was used. If, on the other hand, an organization’s advocacy efforts take place largely at the state and local level, researchers decided that using a nationwide figure could be misleading. For example, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is a large organization based in New York City that engages in a wide range of educational, legal and advocacy efforts to combat anti-Semitism. Its largest advocacy-related budget category is “Civil Rights Expenses,” at $5.8 million, but the bulk of this work involves litigation and advocacy on local cases of defamation and anti-Semitic incidents across the United States, so the Civil Rights category was not selected for this report. Instead, researchers chose the narrower category of “lobbying expenses” as the annual advocacy spending of the ADL. That figure, approximately $484,000, may underestimate the organization’s national advocacy budget.

Some groups publicly report their expenses for lobbying, as defined by the IRS, but do not break down their other spending into any categories that seem to correspond to advocacy. Although the lobbying category is one indication of how much an organization spends annually on advocacy, in some cases it vastly underestimates the amount spent on broader advocacy efforts. Where major organizations listed only a small amount of spending for narrowly defined lobbying, and no other relevant budget categories, they were omitted from the listing and computations in this report.

Some organizations’ budget categories do not make obvious distinctions between advocacy and non-advocacy initiatives. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), for example, reports its spending on “policy activities,” which includes support for government relations, Catholic education, migration and refugee services, “pro-life activities” and the “Human Development, Justice and Peace” program. It also includes support for publishing initiatives and media relations. In the absence of a more detailed breakdown of the USCCB’s expenditures, the “policy activities” expenditure figure was used for the November 2011 study.

Subsequently, the USCCB raised concerns about the category the Pew Forum used for its advocacy expenditures and provided its own estimate of its advocacy spending ($1,000,000). However, the bishops conference did not provide a numerical breakdown or verifiable source for the estimate. As a result, the Pew Forum did not include the USCCB in the expenditures analysis in the updated report. Similarly, no expenditure figures are reported for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in the updated report. Like the USCCB, the NAE gave the Pew Forum its own estimate for its advocacy spending ($150,000) but did not cite a specific source for the estimate.

Identifying the advocacy budgets of large relief and development organizations posed a particular challenge. Groups such as Catholic Relief Services, World Vision and Adventist Development and Relief Agency International have global budgets totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. Typically, these large relief groups do not separately report how much they spend on their Washington offices or itemize their advocacy-related expenses. Yet they often have considerable engagement in Washington policymaking, backed by information from field offices around the world, facilitated by contracts with U.S. government agencies and supported by millions of lay constituents whom they seek to mobilize. Researchers, therefore, sought to identify budget categories that reflect spending by these groups to educate policymakers, constituents and the public about such issues as hunger, disease and international development needs. These categories include: public awareness and education, public awareness and public relations.

After the original report was released in November 2011, Catholic Relief Services questioned the annual advocacy expenditure figures given for it. After receiving and assessing additional information, the Pew Forum decided to modify the annual advocacy expenses reported for the group. (For details, see the “All Expenditures Data” PDF.) In light of the questions raised by Catholic Relief Services, the Pew Forum also decided to review the expenditures of some other relief and development organizations in the study, even though they did not dispute the figures originally reported. After further investigation and correspondence with leaders of these groups, the Pew Forum also modified the expenditure figures for Barnabas Aid, Church World Service and Lutheran World Relief. (For details, see the “All Expenditures Data” PDF.)

As is evident from this discussion, the expenditure figures selected for this report may in some cases overestimate advocacy spending while in other cases they likely underestimate it. For those who may wish to define advocacy spending either more narrowly or more expansively, this report provides details on exactly where, and under what categories, the Pew Forum obtained annual spending figures for each group. (See http://www.pewforum. org/uploadedFiles/all-expenditures.pdf.) Because 2008/2009 annual budgets for 87 of the 216 groups were not obtainable, the total advocacy spending tallied in this report is likely a conservative sum.

The chart below provides a brief overview of the decision rules used to select expenditure figures for this study.

1 Any group that is headquartered in capital-area with advocacy as its principal mission Use total expenses. Americans United for Separation of Church and State
2 Any group that is headquartered in capital-area, but advocacy is not principal mission Use budget categories to identify advocacy expenses. If categories are not sufficient, or are not listed, exclude from advocacy expenses. Adventist Development and Relief Agency International, “Public Relations Expenses”
3 Any group that is headquartered outside the D.C. metro area but maintains a capital-area office to support organization’s advocacy efforts If D.C. office has its own Form 990/annual report/audited financial statement, use the D.C. office’s total expenses. If D.C. office does not file a separate Form 990/annual report/audited financial statement, use budget categories to identify advocacy expenses. American Jewish Committee, “Government and International Relations”
4 Any group for which international advocacy is its principal activity but which also does national advocacy Use budget categories to identify domestic advocacy spending. If the categories are insufficient or no breakdown is given, exclude from advocacy expenses. International Justice Mission, mostly international advocacy and no category for Washington-based advocacy, so exclude.
5 Any group for which state or local advocacy is its principal activity but which also does national advocacy Use budget categories to identify national advocacy spending. If such categories are insufficient or are not listed, exclude from advocacy expenses or replace with more narrow category. Anti-Defamation League, use narrower “lobbying expenses” instead of broader “Civil Rights Expenses”
6 Any group that provides detailed information on expenses for lobbying (IRS definition) but no expenditure figures that correspond to advocacy, more broadly defined Where lobbying expenditures were deemed to significantly underestimate advocacy spending, eliminate group from analysis. Care Net, no appropriate category

Data on Staff Levels

Researchers relied on a variety of sources to determine the best estimate of the paid, fulltime staff working in the Washington, D.C., area for the advocacy organizations in this study. Data were available for 120 groups. Group websites were the main source of data on staffing, supplemented by information obtained from interviews and questionnaires. Some, but not all, groups list their advocacy staff on their websites, but there is not a standardized way that groups report the size of their advocacy-related staff. In some cases, organizations list only policy staff or only professional staff, omitting support staff. In other cases, they include only their 501(c)(4) organizational staff, omitting those who work for a 501(c)(3) companion organization (or vice versa). The Family Research Council, for example, identified 30 professional staff members on its website, but the staff member interviewed for this report estimated total staff at around 65. Bread for the World lists 65 policy staff on its website, but a representative of the organization estimated its total staff – for both its 501(c)(4) and its 501(c) (3) organizations – at more than 80. In these cases, particularly, interview and questionnaire data supplemented and validated data available on websites.

Because data sources do not provide precise staff figures for each organization in a standardized way, researchers grouped the available data by ranges. The ranges are as follows: >50, 26-50, 13-25, 6-12 and 1-5.

Identifying Group Issues and Policy Concerns

To examine the issues that religious advocacy groups prioritize, researchers looked at policy concerns listed on group websites. Issue concerns change over time, as does the content of group websites, so the issue analysis represents a “snapshot” in time – from 2008-2010 – of the religious policy concerns.

For each group, the website was searched for every issue of concern to the group. Websites were searched for headings labeled “about us,” “issues” and similar topics, as well as blogs and press releases, and under those headings the pages were probed for specific keywords or issue statements. These keywords and issue statements were then systematically charted for every group. The following describes the webpage search protocols used to identify issues of concern:


Striving for as much detail as possible, each issue mentioned was catalogued. Issues were grouped initially into the most general categories for comparison, e.g., domestic versus international. Within those two categories, issues were organized into major groups, and under them by more specific foci. This process identified about 300 issues of concern to religious advocacy groups.


25 Don A. Dillman, Jolene D. Smyth, and Leah Melani Christian, Internet, Mail, and Mixed-Mode Surveys:  The Tailored Design Method, Third Edition, Wiley, 2008. (return to text)

26 For more information, see Hertzke 1988 and Berry and Wilcox 2009. (return to text)

27 Houses of worship and their auxiliary organizations are exempt from the requirement to file a Form 990. (return to text)