One of the ways you can tell it is a national election year is left-wing Catholic political organizations re-emerge with new strategies, new funding, and sometimes even new names. But while the organizational names may change, the players stay the same, as the agenda remains to elect Democrats who will expand the progressive economic agenda, strengthen the power of the unions, and increase women’s access to comprehensive health services—including abortion.
This con game began during the 2004 presidential campaign with the creation of the Catholic Voting Project. The founders claimed they simply wanted to “promote the US Catholic bishops’ 2003 document Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility” and “encourage a dialogue which would allow Catholics to learn how their political views matched up to those of the bishops.” But the reality was that the Catholic Voting Project was always a front for electing pro-choice Democrats.
Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good
After Senator John Kerry lost his presidential bid, Chris Korzen, one of the leaders of the Catholic Voting Project, blamed the defeat on Kerry’s messaging problems about abortion. A master at sophistry and community organizing (formerly an organizer for SEIU) Korzen realized that the cover had been blown on the Voting Project and disbanded—but kept the same agenda and leadership—reconstituting the Catholic Voting Project under the new name, Catholics United, a 501C-4. That same year Korzen also teamed up with left-wing Catholics to help found the George Soros-subsidizedCatholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a 501C-3. The two organizations shared staff members (Korzen’s 2007 salary of $84,821 as executive director of Catholics United was paid out of Catholics in Alliance donations).
The role of Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good was to obscure the debate over abortion as much as possible by propagandizing to the effect that Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for president, was the “real” pro-life candidate because he intended to reduce the rate of abortion through anti-poverty measures. They even issued a research study (by Michael Bailey and Joseph Wright) which attempted to “prove” that the poverty reduction Obama was proposing would reduce abortion. But the study was so flawed it had to be dramatically revised. Bailey removed his name from the revised study—which demonstrated far less of a benefit to wealth redistribution—and, eventually, the study itself was quietly removed from the group’s website.
Still, the strategy was successful. Obama won the Catholic vote—in part because of the successful strategies used by these organizations. Soros knew that his money would be well-spent by funding a pseudo-Catholic organization. He was joined by many other major Democratic donors. During the months leading up to the 2008 presidential election, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good attracted large donors, including the late Smith Bagley, a major Democratic fundraiser who came close to matching Soros with grants from his Arca Foundation. In fact, until 2010, Bagley’s third wife, Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, a longtime Democratic Party fundraiser, was so enamored of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good that she not only funneled thousands of dollars to the organization, but also served as chair of its board. Describing herself as a “staunch Irish Catholic” Bagley has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Planned Parenthood and the anti-Catholic group People for the American Way.
No longer major players in the 2012 elections, Catholics United still issues press releases to convince progressive Catholics that conservative candidates hate the poor. But, like aging screen stars who have to become even more outrageous to get attention, their most recent press release, “Paul Ryan’s Priorities Reflect Teachings of Ayn Rand, Not Jesus Christ,” is just the most recent attempt to reclaim the Catholic moral high ground. While Korzen has moved back to Maine to establish Maine’s Majority, a political action group, James Salt has taken over at Catholics United—and has escalated the attacks on the Romney-Ryan team. Salt, like Korzen, was on the launch team for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and did “messaging” work for Kathleen Sebelius—trying to convince voters that the pro-choice Sebelius really wanted to reduce rates of abortion even though her record of expanding abortion rights was clear.
In their most recent publicity stunt, designed to make Paul Ryan especially unwelcome when he was invited to give a speech at Georgetown University in April, Salt led Catholics United in creating and displaying a 50-foot-long banner outside the event with the slogan: “Were you there when they crucified the poor?” The group denounced Ryan’s budget as “immoral” and “an outrageous slap in the face to our nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.”
Although the board of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good continues to operate (it is now led by Alfred Rotondaro, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think-tank helping to re-elect Obama), they have fewer funds and have done little beyond issuing a “voter’s guide” for 2012. The Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good Board now reads like a federation of labor leaders, as it includes Edward McElroy (former president of the American Federation of Teachers), Tom Chabolla (assistant to the president of SEIU), Tiffany Heath (national organizer for the AFL-CIO), and Steve Callahan (former AFL-CIO coordinator of labor organizing campaigns). Few take them seriously anymore.
Faith in Public Life and Faithful America
Meanwhile, some of the staff members from Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good—along with the Soros money—have moved over to Faith in Public Life, which was founded by Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical. John Gehring left his media-messaging position at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to become the senior writer and “Catholic Outreach Coordinator” for Faith in Public Life. Formerly an assistant media director at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Gehring spends most of his time now attacking the same Catholic bishops he used to work for at the USCCB. The most recent battle began when Gehring criticized the bishops for their promotion of the Fortnight for Freedom events. Claiming that the bishops’ support for the events showed “just how out-of-touch some bishops are with the real threats faced by working families,” Gehring wrote that “while most bishops don’t want to be the Republican party at prayer, their alarmist rhetoric and consistent antagonism toward the Obama administration often convey that impression…it’s a bad sign for bishops when they are essentially forced to explain that they are not a faith-based Super Pac for the Romney campaign.”
Gehring is not the only Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good employee to find himself now working at Jim Wallis’ creation, Faith in Public Life. In what appears to be a major consolidation of faith-based organizations, Faith in Public Life not only houses several of the leaders of what had been Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, it also has welcomed staff members from the organization Faithful America—founded by Tom Perriello, formerly a Catholic Democratic Congressman from the 5th District in Virginia.
Founded in 2004 as a “communications and organizing resource center dedicated to helping faith leaders reclaim the values debate in America for justice, compassion, and the common good, ” Faithful America was really created to help Perriello convince voters—including pro-life voters—to move beyond what he called “divisive abortion rhetoric.” It is important to note that nearly all of the Soros-supported progressive faith-based organizations are founded to reclaim the “common good.” And, for left-wing Catholic groups, a commitment to the common good always includes access to abortion rights.
In 2009 the two organizations teamed up with Sojourners, Jim Wallis’ social justice organization, and PICO National Network, the USCCB-funded community organizing initiative, to create a “toolkit” on the health care reform debate. The toolkit reassured readers that conscience protections would remain in place—even though no such assurance was offered in any of the versions of the reform. Such protections were never intended to be in place.
Soros funds Sojourners (and others), by George!
Like Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Faith in Public Life has benefited greatly from the generosity of George Soros. Jim Wallis, however, does not like to be reminded of this fact. When Stephanie Block, the editor of Los Pequenos, a New Mexico-based online publication, wrote an article indicating this fact, Jason Gedeik, the Deputy Press Secretary for Sojourners and Jim Wallis, demanded that she print an online correction clarifying that Jim Wallis had nothing to do with establishing Faith in Public Life. Gedeik claimed in his letter to Block that “Faith in Public Life was actually established by John Podesta’s non-profit group Center for American Progress.” Block refused to post the online correction, citing the group’s website’s description of Wallis’ role in creating Faith in Public Life. But it did not end there. Wallis continued to deny having received funding from George Soros through the summer of 2010—even when reporters presented him with evidence that Soros has given Sojourners several hundred thousand dollars. And, not content simply to deny that he received the funds from Soros, Wallis went so far as to call anyone who stated that Soros had provided financial support a “liar.”
This denial of Soros funding continued until 2010, when World Magazine editor Marvin Olasky reported in July that “in 2004 Sojourners, Wallis’s organization, received $200,000 from billionaire George Soros, a financier of left-wing groups that push for abortion atheism, bigger government, and other causes.” Olasky claimed to have a printout of a page from the website of the Open Society Institute—of which Soros is founder, funder, and chairman—showing the grant. When asked to respond to Olasky’s allegations in an interview for the online publication Patheos, Wallis is described by the interviewer as having “exploded” in anger saying: “It’s not hyperbole or overstatement to say that Glenn Beck lies for a living. I’m sad to see Marvin Olasky doing the same thing. No, we don’t receive money from Soros.”
Wallis continued to deny that he ever received any money from Soros, claiming “our money comes from Christians who support us and who read Sojourners.” But Olasky simply asked his readers to go to the Open Society Institute website and see for themselves. When they did, the record of the grant had disappeared—and a large white space appeared where the record of the grant to Wallis had formerly appeared. Someone had scrubbed the site. Fortunately, there were PDF copies of the $200,000 Soros grant, as well as another one for $25,000 from 2006. There were also physical copies of these pages held by a large number of people who had already discovered the funding from Soros to Wallis.
Once Wallis was unable to continue denying the large grants from Soros, his communications manager released a statement insisting that “the first of the three grants, for $200,000,” came at a time when Sojourners, according to its 2003 audited financial statement, had “incurred a significant amount of net losses leading to a negative asset balance.” In other words, they had bigger financial concerns than the grant of $200,000. Later, Wallis issued his own statement claiming that he should have declined to comment until he had “consulted with our staff on the details of our funding over the past several years.” Wallis also claimed that “the allegation concerned three grants received over 10 years from the Open Society that made up the tiniest fraction of Sojourners’ funding during that decade—so small that I had not remembered them.” Most of us would not consider the hundreds of thousands of dollars from George Soros to be a “tiny fraction” of Sojourners income—especially when Wallis himself admitted that Sojourners had a “negative balance” in 2003—the year before receiving the large cash infusion from Soros in 2004. Olasky concurs, telling a reporter for Christianity Today, “If you’re in the red and someone comes up with $200,000, especially a billionaire, you tend not to forget that.”
Soros money continues to flow into Wallis’ initiatives—and now is flowing into Faith in Public Life, the new home for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good personnel. The Big Con continues—and sadly, John Gehring, a former employee of the USCCB, is now part of that con. But it is getting much harder for progressive organizations like Catholics United or Faith in Public Life to hide their tracks now that everyone knows who they really are.
About the Author
Anne Hendershott is Distinguished Visiting Faculty Member at The King’s College in New York City. She is the author of Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education.