More than 210 organizations are engaged in religious lobbying or religion-related advocacy in Washington, D.C., a fivefold increase over the last 40 years, according to a new report, "Lobbying for the Faithful," from the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. Collectively the groups employ at least 1,000 people in the greater Washington area and spend at least $390 million a year on efforts to influence national public policy.
Now that sounds like a lot of souls spending a lot of dough, but the religious-related advocates are often working at cross purposes and their numbers represent a comparatively tiny fraction of the legions of lobbyists and advocates in Washington. In 2010 there were almost 13,000 registered lobbyists working in Washington’s $3.51 billion industry.
The Pew results, at least in terms of dollars spent, also seem less dramatic when the significant overweighting of a few key “religious” players are accounted for. Pew counts the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as a religious lobby, arguing that A.I.P.A.C. constituency is overwhelmingly Jewish and its primary goal is arguably religious, drumming up American support for the Jewish state of Israel. Still that one lobby alone accounts for almost a quarter of the “religious” lobbying that Pew calculated with a 2008 expenditure of just under $88 million. Several other Jewish organizations which are also major lobbyists on behalf of Israel, landed in the Pew’s top 40 religious lobbies in Washington, but the next biggest player after A.I.P.A.C. was none other than the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The U.S.C.C.B. directed almost $27 million of its $143 million budget to D.C. advocacy on an array of domestic and international issues, from social conservative concerns related to gay marriage and prohibiting federal funding for abortion to “progressive” issues such as protecting foreign aid and social services from budget cuts.
Other religious big spenders in Washington include the Family Research Council ($14.3 million); the American Jewish Committee ($13.4 million); Concerned Women for America ($12.6 million); Bread for the World ($11.4 million); National Right to Life Committee ($11.4 million); the Home School Legal Defense Association ($11.3 million); CitizenLink—a Focus on the Family Affiliate ($10.8 million); the Traditional Values Coalition ($9.5 million); and the National Organization for Marriage ($8.6 million).
Catholic Relief Services came in at number 19 and spent $4.7 million on advocacy. It’s important to draw a distinction between advocacy and lobbying. Few religious groups would legally be considered lobbyists; most prefer to be known as advocates working to educate legislators and constituencies on public policy.
Historically, according to Pew, religious groups worked on domestic issues, but over the last few decades global issues gained in prominence and now just as many are partially or completely directed toward international issues. According to the report, religious groups are currently working on over 300 separate public policy issues. Many groups within the same denomination find themselves on different sides on polarizing issues such as gay marriage. That internal discord may partly explain the rapid expansion of religious advocacy and lobbying entities.
According to Pew researchers, the issue agendas of religious advocacy groups touch on a wide array of domestic and foreign policy concerns. On the domestic front, the most commonly addressed issues are the relationship between church and state, the defense of civil rights and liberties for religious and other minorities, bioethics and life issues (such as abortion, capital punishment and end-of-life issues) and family/marriage issues (such as the definition of marriage, domestic violence and fatherhood initiatives). Internationally, the most commonly addressed concerns are human rights, debt relief and other economic issues, and the promotion of peace and democracy. About one-in-five groups (21 percent) deal with religious freedom in particular countries or worldwide.
Like secular lobbies, religious groups have become adept at using emerging technologies to get out their messages: More than eight-in-ten of the groups say they use targeted or mass emails to mobilize constituents. More than six-in-ten were using social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter in 2009, according to the report.
Other major findings include:
• About one-in-five religious advocacy organizations in Washington have a Roman Catholic perspective (19 percent) and a similar proportion is evangelical Protestant in outlook (18 percent), while 12 percent are Jewish and 8 percent are mainline Protestant. But many smaller U.S. religious groups, including Baha'is, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, also have established advocacy organizations in the Washington area. In fact, the number of Muslim groups (17) is about the same as the number of mainline Protestant groups (16). And the largest category today is interreligious: One-quarter of the groups studied (54) either represent multiple faiths or advocate on religious issues without representing a specific religion.
• The recession in the U.S. economy from late 2007 to mid-2009 seems to have taken a toll on the budgets of many religion-related advocacy organizations. Of the 104 groups for which data on expenditures in both 2008 and 2009 were available, 56 reported that their advocacy spending was lower in 2009 than it had been in 2008. The average decline for the 56 groups was about $500,000. In the same period, 48 groups reported that their advocacy spending rose, with the average increase being about $300,000. Overall among the 104 groups, there was a net drop of about $14 million in total advocacy expenditures during this period.
• More than three-quarters (79 percent) of the groups for which staffing data were available employ 12 or fewer people in the Washington area. More than half (55 percnt) have five or fewer employees.