Updated May 15, 2012
Navigate this page:
Top Advocacy Expenditures
Collective Spending on Particular
Two-Year Comparison of Advocacy
Collectively, religious advocacy groups spend at least $350 million per year to advance their
public policy agendas, according to the most recent data from 2008-2009 for each group.
Financial information was available from federal tax filings or annual reports for 129 of the 216
groups studied (60%), so the $350 million annual figure is probably conservative.
About one-third of the 129 groups reported annual advocacy outlays in the $1 million to $5
million range (44 of the 129 groups, or 34%). More than one-quarter were in the $100,000
to $500,000 category (37 groups, or 29%). Just a handful of groups (10, or 8%) reported
expenditures of $100,000 and less, and only eight groups (6%) had expenditures that
exceeded $10 million.
Top Advocacy Expenditures
Forty groups (about one-third of the 129 groups for which data were available) accounted for
more than $300 million of the $350 million in total reported advocacy expenditures. The top
10 of these groups each had expenditures of $8 million or more and collectively accounted for
more than $190 million of
Among the 40 groups with
the highest annual advocacy
spending from 2008 to 2009,
15 are interreligious, six are
Jewish, six are evangelical
Protestant, four are mainline
Protestant, three are Catholic,
two are Muslim, one is
Quaker, one is Buddhist,
one is Unitarian Universalist
and one is secular.
Of these 40 groups, 25
represent individuals, while
six represent religious bodies,
three are permanent coalitions, three represent institutions, two are think tanks and one is a
It is important to note that advocacy groups report their spending in many different ways.
While some groups break out their advocacy and lobbying expenditures, many do not.
In addition, many groups report expenses only for direct lobbying as strictly defined by the
Internal Revenue Service – attempts to influence, or urge the public to influence, specific
legislation, whether the legislation is before a legislative body, such as the U.S. Congress or
any state legislature, or before the public as a referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional
amendment or similar measure. As noted earlier, this study defines advocacy more broadly,
encompassing a wide range of efforts to shape and influence public policy on religion-related
issues.(See “What Is
Religious Advocacy?”) In analyzing the groups’ spending, the
study therefore tries to use the expenditure figures that best reflect the broader definition of
religious advocacy used in the report rather than the narrower definition used by the IRS. For
example, for Washington-based groups whose principal mission is advocacy, the study uses
the group’s total operating expenses rather than its reported expenses for direct lobbying.
In other cases, especially for groups that spend substantial amounts on humanitarian relief
efforts or social services, the study uses other spending categories reported by the groups
themselves in tax forms, annual reports and financial statements. These include such budget
items as public awareness and education, public relations, program services and policy
activities. Here are a few specific examples:
- World Vision, an international humanitarian aid organization, had total operating expenses
of more than $1 billion in 2009, according to its consolidated financial statements. Given
the organization’s broad mission and robust advocacy work, this study does not use either
the organization’s total expenditures or its narrowly defined lobbying expenditures. The
study instead selected World Vision’s total reported expenditures for “public awareness and
education,” including its efforts to inform constituents and shape public opinion about global
issues of concern to the organization, which totaled about $7 million in 2009.
- The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, with total expenses of about $5.6 million in
2009, reported that its direct annual lobbying expenditures were $6,000. However, the Pew
Forum selected the group’s expenditures for “program services” as a better measure according
to the study’s definition of religious advocacy. The group’s program services expenditures,
including support for “civil liberties,” “environmental justice” and “economic justice,” totaled
about $4.6 million in 2009.
- B’nai B’rith Interational’s total expenses were more than $24 million in 2009, and the group
did not report any direct lobbying expenditures. In this instance, the Pew Forum selected the
group’s “public advocacy” expenses (nearly $2 million in 2009).
See the Methodology for more details on how the study calculated the groups’ advocacy
expenditures. To view all expense categories considered in the process of determining which
expenditures most closely reflect each group’s annual advocacy-related spending, see the “All Expenditures Data" PDF. For a full list of groups and
their advocacy expenditures, see the online directory.
Collective Spending on Particular
Groups that support Israel are among the highest annual spenders on religion-related
advocacy in Washington. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, with almost $88
million in advocacy spending in 2008, has the largest annual expenditures of any group in the
study. Maintaining U.S. support for Israel is also an important issue for many other Jewish
and Christian groups.
Several of the top 40 groups in annual advocacy expenditures either oppose abortion or
support abortion rights as part of their primary mission. These include the National Right
to Life Committee, American Life League, Human Life International, Religious Coalition for
Reproductive Choice, Americans United for Life and Catholics for Choice. Collectively, these
groups had combined annual advocacy expenditures of more than $30 million in 2008/2009.
Furthermore, this estimate of spending does not include the advocacy investment of other
groups for which abortion is an important issue, such as Concerned Women for America and
the Family Research Council.
A number of the 40 groups with the highest advocacy expenditures advocate for conservative
or traditional cultural values. These include the Family Research Council, Concerned Women
for America, CitizenLink (A Focus on the Family Affiliate), the Traditional Values Coalition,
the National Organization for Marriage, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious
Liberty Commission, Ethics and Public Policy Center and Eagle Forum, to name just a few.
These groups have combined annual expenditures on advocacy of more than $64 million.
Groups that oppose religious conservatives on cultural issues also are among those with the
highest annual advocacy spending. Examples include People For the American Way, with
nearly $8 million in advocacy spending in 2009, and Americans United for Separation of
Church and State, with advocacy expenditures of more than $6 million in 2008. In addition,
certain groups that represent religious bodies – such as the United Church of Christ Justice
and Witness Ministries and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism – have similar
perspectives on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and funding of parochial schools.
Groups that focus on issues such as hunger, poverty and peacemaking – often called “social
justice” issues by these groups – also collectively spend many millions of dollars to support
their advocacy efforts. Examples of well-funded social justice groups are Bread for the World,
World Vision, Sojourners, the Friends Committee on National Legislation and Church World
Service. These five groups have combined advocacy spending of nearly $30 million a year.
Moreover, a number of groups that represent religious bodies also support social justice
concerns, such as the United Methodist Church Board of Church & Society, United Church of
Christ Justice and Witness Ministries and Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism.
Two-Year Comparison of Advocacy
The recession in the U.S. economy from late 2007 to mid-2009 appears to have taken a toll on
many religion-related advocacy organizations’ spending. Of the 102 groups for which data on
advocacy expenditures were available for both 2008 and 2009, more than half (57 groups, or
56%) reported that their advocacy spending decreased; the average decline in spending among
these groups was about $500,000. In the same period, 45 groups (or 44%) reported that their
advocacy spending rose; the average increase in advocacy expenditures among these groups
was about $300,000. The median expenditures for the 102 groups was about $800,000 in
2009, down from roughly $900,000 in 2008.
Overall, among all 102 groups that reported advocacy expenditures in both 2008 and 2009,
spending increases amounted to roughly $13 million, while spending cuts totaled about $30
million, for a net drop of about $17 million in total advocacy expenditures by these groups in
2009 compared with 2008.
In addition to the economic downturn, numerous other factors could be partly or wholly
responsible for the declines in spending reported by various groups in 2009. Because 2008
was a presidential election year, some groups might have spent more heavily than usual in
2007-2008 in an effort to draw attention to particular issues. Both the White House and
control of the House of Representatives changed hands in 2008, and such changes can have
a major impact on fundraising by some groups. Shifting public perceptions of the salience of
issues ranging from HIV-AIDS in Africa to the death penalty in the United States also play a
big role in the fortunes of religious advocacy organizations. And, of course, each organization’s
leadership, strategy and competition matter, too.
There are no notable differences in the organizational structures between the groups whose
advocacy outlays increased and those whose expenditures decreased. But there are some
differences by religious tradition. For instance, nine of the 45 groups (20%) that had an
increase in advocacy spending are Muslim, while only one of the 57 groups (2%) whose
expenditures decreased is Muslim. By contrast, four of the groups (9%) whose advocacy
spending increased are Jewish, while nine of the groups (16%) with decreased spending are
Jewish. Similarly, two of the groups (4%) with an increase in advocacy spending are mainline
Protestant, while six of the groups (11%) that saw decreases are mainline Protestant. Among
interreligious, Catholic and evangelical Protestant groups, about as many organizations
reported increases as decreases.
The group with the largest drop in advocacy spending in absolute dollars during the period
studied was People For the American Way ($4.5 million), followed by the Republican Jewish
Coalition ($3.7 million). Seven other groups also reported decreases of at least $1 million in
In percentage terms, however, the group with the greatest decrease in spending (as a
proportion of its advocacy expenditures) was the Dalit Freedom Network, an evangelical
Christian group that opposes discrimination on the basis of caste and race in India, whose
spending went down by 79%. Four additional groups saw their advocacy spending decrease
by more than 50%. Of the 57 groups that reported a decrease in spending, 42 groups (74%)
reported that the decline was 30% or less.
The group that had the largest numerical increase in advocacy spending was the National
Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage. Its reported advocacy
expenditures jumped by more than $5 million. The group with the next-largest rise in advocacy
spending was the Muslim American Society, with an increase of about $900,000.
Five groups more than doubled their advocacy expenditures: the World Organization for
Resource Development & Education, Christians’ Israel Public Action Campaign, the National
Organization for Marriage, PICO National Network (an alliance of groups engaged in community
organizing) and the International Uyghur Human Rights & Democracy Foundation (which
promotes religious and political freedom for China’s Uyghur Muslim minority). But 34 of the 45
groups whose advocacy spending increased (76%) reported that the increase was 30% or less.
For a full list of groups and the
most recent advocacy expenditures available for the period 2008-2009, see the