Sunday, September 18, 2005

All together now: Aaaawwww

I hope y'all don't mind if I just C&P this entire article - as a public service, to cheer y'all up:

Once influential Christian Coalition struggles to raise

Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. - The once influential Christian Coalition has struggled to raise money and pay its bills, but the group's executive director says it will survive.

Once a voice for traditional family values, the group has moved its headquarters to Charleston where national executive director Roberta Combs spends most of her time. The group had as many as 25 paid full-time staffers at its headquarters in Washington in its heyday in 1994 but now has 10 full-time staff there.

"The coalition as we knew it doesn't exist," says Lois Eargle, former chairwoman of the Horry County Christian Coalition.

Earlier this summer, Pitney Bowes sued the coalition and said the group owed $13,649 in unpaid postage. The issue was settled out of court, says Pitney Bowes attorney Robert Bernstein of Charleston.

While the group agreed to make monthly payments to erase the debt, the issue is a sign of ongoing struggles.

Combs wouldn't say the coalition is in trouble but acknowledged money has been hard to raise since the group's founder, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, stepped down as coalition president in February 2002 and turned control over to Combs.

"It hurt fund-raising," she said. "There's never enough money."

The 16-year-old organization has been in decline since 1997 when executive director Ralph Reed, one of its most effective leaders, left to form a political consulting firm in Atlanta.

"He was a great media figure, able to convey his particular message," says Corwin Smidt, professor of political science at Calvin College, a Christian liberal arts school in
Michigan. "But he was also a very bright young man and was able to articulate
and make arguments effectively on behalf of the coalition."

During Reed's tenure, the coalition began distributing millions of voter guides containing candidates' records issues such as abortion and gay rights.

In 1994 alone, the group mailed 30 million postcards opposing President Clinton's sweeping health care proposal and made more than 20,000 phone calls to urge support for a balanced budget amendment. Those issues helped Republicans win control of Congress that year.

The group has faced other lawsuits. Black staffers filed a $39 million racial discrimination suit against the coalition, claiming they were forced to use a separate entrance at its headquarters. The suit was settled with an out-of-court payment of some $300,000 to the employees.

The coalition is looking for a media spokesman - someone of Reed's caliber to put the
organization back on the map.

"We have not had a media spokesman for a good while now," says Drew McKissick, a Columbia-based political consultant and coalition activist. "You've got to show the flag these days. It makes a big difference in people's perception. We need to boost our profile so folks know we exist."

Eargle thinks that's a waste of time. "I don't see anyone stepping up to the plate that could revitalize the coalition," she said.

In many ways, the coalition has been replaced by organization's like James Dobson's Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council in Washington, says University of Toledo professor John Green.

Both of those groups were singled out when "Christian conservatives" were credited with pushing President Bush over the top in his 2004 re-election bid.

"The Christian Coalition did a wonderful job at its time," Eargle says. "It did a good job in getting grass-roots people involved. Maybe it has served its time."

More from The State's political columnist, Lee Bandy: http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/12676171.htm


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