November 21, 2011

Lobbying for the Faithful

Preface

Updated May 15, 2012

More than 20 years ago, University of Oklahoma political science professor Allen D. Hertzke published Representing God in Washington, a study of religious lobbies operating in the nation’s capital. “[N]early every modern permutation of religious belief or interest is represented,” Hertzke wrote in the 1988 book. Washington, he added, is “a common ground where groups with different regional, ethnic, theological or ideological bases meet in close proximity. It is here that leaders develop strategies, coalitions form, issues are framed, bedfellows emerge, partisans mutually adjust and members are mobilized.”

In researching his book, Hertzke found that the number and ideological diversity of Washington-based religious advocacy groups had mushroomed since the 1950s and that the groups’ agendas were far broader than they had been even a decade earlier. “Religious groups, of course, are deeply involved (on all sides) in highly charged social issues … and on churchstate matters,” he wrote. “However, in any given congressional session religious leaders will also be embroiled in battles over … foreign aid, international trade, nuclear strategy, military budgets, tax reform, Social Security, day care funding, environmental protection, labor legislation, farm bills – and the list goes on.”

As this report shows, the religious advocacy community in Washington has continued to grow and change in the past 20 years. And the increasing diversity of the U.S. religious landscape has brought many new groups into the mix, from the International Quranic Center to The Sikh Coalition and the Hindu American Foundation. To help quantify this growth and change, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life worked with Professor Hertzke to conduct a new study of organizations engaged in religious lobbying or religion-related advocacy in Washington. The new study examines a total of 216 groups, analyzing their faith traditions, organizational structures, tax status, annual expenditures, issue agendas and primary strategies. The study also includes a brief history of religious advocacy in Washington. An online directory, available at online directory, contains profiles of the 216 groups, including excerpts from their mission statements.

Many sources were consulted in an effort to find all religious advocacy organizations that maintain a physical office and at least one paid staff member in the Washington, D.C., area. The sources included the Washington Information Directory 2010-2011 (CQ Press) and other guides to Washington-based organizations; online phone directories and websites; the Pew Forum’s own contact database; and books, news articles and academic studies concerning religion in U.S. politics. As the study notes, however, new advocacy groups are constantly forming, while some older ones become inactive or dissolve each year, sometimes with no public announcement. As a result, the study may not contain a complete list of religion-related advocacy groups currently active in the nation’s capital. Nor does it include groups that may be involved in advocacy on the national level but do not have permanent offices and professional staff in the Washington area.

One other limitation bears mentioning at the outset of this report. Although the study analyzes the major characteristics of organizations engaged in religion-related advocacy, it does not attempt to gauge their degree of political influence. While there is an extensive academic literature on interest groups in U.S. politics, measuring their influence in an objective, quantifiable way has proved to be difficult, if not impossible, for generations of political scientists.1

We wish to thank Professor Hertzke, who was a visiting senior research fellow at the Pew Forum in 2008-2009, for his leadership of this study. In addition to the current staff listed on the masthead of this report, the Pew Forum also would like to thank two former research assistants who worked extensively on this project, Michelle Ralston Morris and Amanda Nover.

Luis Lugo, Director
Alan Cooperman, Associate Director, Research

Note for Updated Edition

In November 2011, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life released a study, for which I was the primary researcher, that attempted to provide a comprehensive look at Washington-based religious advocacy groups. The results were released at a well-attended event in Washington where I discussed the main findings with a distinguished panel featuring Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Rajdeep Singh of The Sikh Coalition.

The release of the report and the discussion at the event drew a lot of attention from the press and the Washington advocacy and policy communities. Following the release, we heard from several groups that were disappointed to find that they had not been included in the original study. We also heard from a few groups that requested additional information on the data we used to analyze their characteristics, including their advocacy expenditures.

In response to the feedback we received, we decided to update the report and the online directory of religious advocacy groups that was released with the study. First, we have added five new groups: the American Civil Liberties Union’s Freedom of Religion and Belief Program, the Center for American Progress’ Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, and the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Multicultural Growth & Witness program. We also removed one group: the Washington Office on Latin America, which is no longer primarily funded and supported by religious organizations. These changes brought the total number of groups in the study from 212 to 216. Changing the total number of groups in the study meant that we had to recalculate many of the findings. In most cases, the figures and percentages did not change by much, but readers should be aware that some of the figures may be slightly different from those in the original report.

Second, as with all of its research reports, the Pew Forum was happy to correct factual errors when groups brought them to our attention. For example, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations did not eliminate its Washington Office for Advocacy in 2010, as we originally reported. The group instead merged that office with another department. We apologize for this mistake and any other inadvertent errors that appeared in the original report. One of the most challenging aspects of this multiyear research project involved the analysis of the groups’ annual advocacy expenditures. As we note in the report, advocacy groups report their spending in many different ways. While some break out their advocacy and lobbying expenditures, many do not. While some provide detailed records of spending on a broad range of advocacy and informational activities, some report expenses only for direct lobbying as narrowly defined by the Internal Revenue Service.

Because the availability and quality of financial information for religious advocacy organizations varies so greatly, we made the decision to rely on publicly available financial information from federal tax filings (the Form 990 that most nonprofit groups must file annually with the IRS), annual reports and audited financial statements. For the groups for which we were able to obtain financial information, we then had to decide which of their expenditures best reflected the broad definition of advocacy used in the report, which goes well beyond the narrow definition used by the IRS. As we acknowledge in the Executive Summary, “judgment calls inevitably had to be made, and other researchers might have made different decisions.” For this reason, the report tries to be as transparent as possible. In addition to fully explaining our decision rules in the Methodology, we also provide readers with a detailed account of exactly where the Pew Forum obtained annual spending figures for each group. (See the “All Expenditures Data” table at http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Issues/Government/all-expenditures.pdf.)

Let me briefly summarize our decision rules. For groups whose principal mission is advocacy – a category that includes the majority of the 129 groups that were included in the expenditures analysis – we used the group’s total expenditures, even though these figures include administrative and fundraising expenses. As the methodology explains, “if the organization’s principal mission is advocacy, the administrative and fundraising costs are reasonably considered to be in the service of advocacy.”

For groups whose missions go beyond advocacy – groups that also provide social services, for example – we sought to identify the spending category (or categories) in the organization’s public financial statements that best correspond with our broad definition of advocacy. These categories include government relations, public policy, government and international affairs, and peace and justice. As the report states, “identifying the advocacy budgets of large relief and development organizations posed a particular challenge.” Among the budget categories we used for these groups were public awareness, public awareness and education, and public relations.

After the report was released, a few organizations questioned the annual advocacy expenditure figures given for them. In each case when questions were raised, either publicly or in private communications, we contacted the groups and encouraged them to provide a more detailed accounting of their advocacy expenditures.

After receiving and assessing additional information, we decided to modify the annual advocacy expenditure figures reported for Catholic Relief Services. (For details, see the “All Expenditures Data” table at http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Issues/ Government/all-expenditures.pdf.) In light of the concerns raised by Catholic Relief Services, we also decided to revisit the expenditures of some other relief and development organizations in the study, even though they did not dispute our figures. After further investigation and correspondence with leaders of these groups, we also modified the expenditure figures for Barnabas Aid, Church World Service and Lutheran World Relief.

Two groups whose missions go beyond advocacy — the National Association of Evangelicals and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — gave us estimates for their advocacy expenditures, but they did not provide a detailed breakdown or verifiable source for the estimates. As a result, we did not include these groups in the expenditures analysis in the updated report. All these changes are noted in the “All Expenditures Data” table at http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Issues/Government/all-expenditures.pdf.

Finally, I would like to address questions raised about the broad definition of religious advocacy used in the report. Our definition of religious advocacy includes an array of programs and activities by various organizations to inform their constituencies and the public about issues of concern and help shape public policy on those issues. One reason for using this broad definition is that it accords not only with common usage but also with the way many religious groups view themselves and their efforts in Washington. In my interviews for the study, I found that many religious leaders dislike the connotations of the term “lobbying” and do not consider themselves to be lobbyists. Instead they see themselves as advocates, not for narrow self-interest, but on behalf of those who often do not have a voice in the corridors of power. Their goals are to help the poor, the vulnerable and the persecuted, often by means that include educating the public and raising awareness. The groups included in this study advocate on a broad range of issues that are part of their core missions, which is why we include the groups’ mission statements in the online profiles of the groups and analyze their various advocacy methods, which include a great deal more than lobbying members of Congress or state legislatures.

Religious advocacy organizations play an important role in public policy deliberations in the U.S., and we hope that readers of this report will gain a greater understanding of their roles and characteristics.

Allen D. Hertzke,
Presidential Professor of Political Science, University of Oklahoma


Footnotes:

1 Many academic studies have found that the influence of a particular lobby or interest group depends on numerous contextual factors – including media attention, party alignment, presidential action, current events and public opinion – that cloud the picture of how much influence the group wields on its own. See, for example, Frank R. Baumgartner et al., Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why, University of Chicago Press, 2009; Jeffrey M. Berry and Clyde Wilcox, “Bias and Representation,” in The Interest Group Society, Fifth Edition, Longman, 2009; and Allan J. Cigler and Burdett A. Loomis, “Always Involved, Rarely Central: Organized Interests in American Politics,” in Interest Group Politics, Congressional Quarterly Press, 2002.  (return to text)