The Christian Coalition (hereafter referred to as CC), like its founder, is probably the most recognized organization of its type. Founded in 1989 by Pat Robertson, it was truly the first group to make itself an effective force in the political arena on issues related to its agenda. Robertson founded the Christian Coalition after he lost the 1988 presidential nomination to George Bush (the elder). Since Robertson wasn't going to be sitting in the White House any time soon, he decided he was going to decide who would sit in the Oval Office through a political action committee: the Christian Coalition was born.
It didn't take long for the power of the group to be felt. In 1993, more than 200 elected officials attributed their election (or defeat in some cases) to the Christian Coalition's use of their voter guides, which were/are blatantly biased and were/are typically handed out the Sunday before the election, giving the candidates the CC does not support no time to counter the misrepresentation of their positions. Since these guides are often distributed to churches and placed in church bulletins, those uninformed voters who peruse a copy of the "non-partisan" guide are very likely to take the guides at face value and not question the veracity of the guide. Elections are normally held on Tuesdays, so even if someone wanted to verify the information they contained, s/he would be hard pressed to do so between coming home from church on Sunday and casting a vote on Tuesday. This writer finds it hard not to believe that lack of time to check the information was intentionally minimized. Most people, especially in those early days, thought that with a name like "Christian Coalition", one could expect honesty and being above-board and legal at all times.
Over the years, the CC's influence only continued to grow. The "Contract with America", signed by almost every Republican candidate (both incumbent and challenger) in 1994, was in large part put together with the influence of the Christian Coalition, who shortly after revealed their own "Contract with the American Family". Virtually every conservative legislator was at the press conference announcing the CC's "Contract" just like virtually every legislator signed the Republican's "Contract with America".
The Christian Coalition makes the claim that it represents the values of a majority of Americans. It claims it has about 2 million members (although an analysis of their yearly budget points to a more realistic 300,000 to 400,000 members) in more than 1400 chapters across the country. While Robertson may have founded the organization, it's success can be chalked up to the leadership of Ralph Reed, who downplayed many of Robertson's extremist positions and took a more "liberal" stand (well, liberal when compared to Robertson since the views of the organization are still far to the right).
I remember watching an interview with Mr. Reed on the news one day. I can't quote what Mr. Reed said, but the gist was this: "We're going to take back this country and make it into the Christian nation that our founding fathers intended it to be. We're going to start by winning elections on school boards and in town councils and then work our way up through the system until we have a president sitting in the White House." It took less than fifteen years for them to fulfill their goal, although Mr. Reed himself left the organization in 1997. (Reed is still very active in politics— but from behind the scenes. It was under Reed's influence that Microsoft withdrew their support for a gay rights bill in the state of Washington despite their strong support for gay rights over the years. Microsoft has since cut its ties with Reed's organization, but the damage is already done: the bill failed to pass.)
While they have been successful in achieving their goal, they couldn't have done it without some help from the other organizations (particularly Focus on the Family) due to a myriad of legal problems the CC has encountered in the last 5 years or so. The CC began putting out voter guides to the national elections in 1990. While claiming to be nonpartisan, which was required for maintaining their non-profit status, an analysis of the voter's guide shows just how heavily, though subtly, they favored and pushed for Republicans. Several organizations filed lawsuits with the FEC, and while most of that suit was eventually thrown out, the judge did rule in August of 1999 that the CC had violated FEC regulations in two key areas. On top of that, just months earlier, the CC was denied tax exempt status by the IRS after a ten year fight to win such status.
Of course, the CC played it off as unimportant since they claimed to have withdrawn their application because they were making sweeping organizational changes. These changes resulted in the "Christian Coalition International" and a "Christian Coalition of America". The CC International is a for-profit corporation, while CC America was merely a renamed and relocated chapter from Texas that "coincidentally" already had tax exempt status. But the damage from all the bad publicity was already done. By 2000, donations to the CC had dropped more than 85% from their peak of more than $26 million in 1996 and many churches were encouraged not to help distribute the CC's voter's guide for 2000 in order to protect their own tax-exempt status.
The CC's legal troubles continued when in early 2001, almost a dozen black employees filed a discrimination suit against the organization. Although it was settled out of court, estimates are that the CC had to pay more than $1 million in compensation and court costs. By now, the CC was reeling in millions of dollars of debt. A story in the Washington Post in early 2006 highlights the Coalitions financial and legal woes as well as its shrinking membership and power.
Pat Robertson, who had taken over when Reed left, stepped down as president late in 2001— ostensibly to devote more time to his ministry— but he selected Roberta Combs to take his place. (I think it interesting to note that on Pat Robertson's official biography page on his site, there is no mention of his founding the CC or his former association with it.) Combs' leadership of the group had a rocky beginning and she made drastic changes in the focus of the CC, forming a partnership with various other organizations and churches and creating a "revival" atmosphere.1 While it drew some new members in, the CC is still not the powerhouse it once was and many question whether the group will even survive.
The CC's legal problems are still ongoing. In March 2004, they were sued by a law firm who represented them in several cases and later in the year, a nasty divorce battle between Combs' daughter and ex-son-in-law entangled the CC in another lawsuit contesting compensation owed.
While the Christian Coalition as a group may be waning in its influence, the shift to the extreme right that it started in the late 80s is still progressing— even gathering speed. The banner of fundamentalism has been taken up by other groups— including the ACLJ2(the one time legal arm of the CC that was founded in 1990 also by Pat Robertson)— and is now flying over both houses of Congress and the White House and threatens to fly over the US Supreme Court in the next four years. How do we stop these kinds of groups from having the influence that they do? For that, you'll have to check The Solution section for my thoughts on the matter.
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