Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Clergy cash: Obama, Clinton beat Huck"

Kenneth P. Vogel (Politico):
Republican Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, actively courts Christian conservatives in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. But clergy are shifting their allegiance from Republicans to Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and other Democrats — at least as measured by campaign contributions.
Through the first nine months of the year, members of the clergy and religious groups gave $367,000 to Democratic presidential and congressional candidates and committees, compared with $288,000 to Republicans, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

At the same point in the run-up to the 2004 election, Republicans had the advantage in donations by religious professionals, who gave the GOP 59 percent of their $462,000 in donations.

The shift comes as Democrats embrace faith in an effort to negate Republican advantages among Christian voters and as more moderate evangelical Christians mobilize to counter the so-called Religious Right.

Conservative evangelical support has helped propel Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, to the top tier of the Republican presidential field. And he has received a far greater share of his campaign cash from the clergy than any other White House hopeful through the end of September.

Still, for most of that period, he languished near the bottom of the polls and at the back of the fundraising race. His $20,600 in clergy contributions don’t compare to the hauls by the Democratic presidential leaders.

Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, raised $107,000 from clergy, while Clinton, the junior senator from New York, raised $89,000.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican whose campaign has struggled to quell concerns among Christian conservatives about his Mormon faith, accepted $39,000 from clergy — nearly twice as much as Huckabee.

But Romney had accepted a total of $45 million in contributions as of Sept. 30, compared to Huckabee’s $2.4 million. And as Huckabee’s overall fundraising picks up — his campaign predicts it will raise $5 million on the Internet alone in the fourth quarter — he hopes to raise more from clergy, too, said campaign manager Chip Saltsman.

“When you are a former pastor and come from that world, that’s part of your base,” he said.

Though clergy traditionally haven’t had a mighty hand in campaign finance, their influence extends far beyond their wallets, said Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“Getting a private endorsement from a religious leader, being invited to speak at a church — those help candidates make it clear that they are religious, and carry a lot more bang than a monetary contribution,” he said.

Huckabee also has held fundraisers hosted by church leaders, or around church events, and support from religious leaders occasionally appears to coincide with contributions from the wider community.

Take Robert Morris.

The co-founder and senior pastor of a 12,000-member evangelical Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, has — along with his wife Debbie — contributed $4,600 to Huckabee’s campaign. And residents of Southlake, an affluent suburb of Dallas/Fort Worth, have given Huckabee more $31,000 — making it his fifth biggest contributing ZIP code.

Morris couldn’t be reached for comment.

Other big-giving clergy include Ira Combs, pastor of the Greater Bible Way Temple in Jackson, Miss., who with his wife gave $9,200 to Arizona Sen. John McCain’s Republican presidential campaign, and Claude Alexander, pastor of the University Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., who gave $4,600 to Clinton and $1,000 to Obama.

Among non-Christian denominations, Erica Greenbaum, a rabbi at New York’s Jewish Community Project, with her husband, Mark Gerson, contributed $4,600 to Romney and $6,900 to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s rival presidential campaign for the GOP nomination. Her husband also gave $2,300 to former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson’s GOP campaign and $1,000 to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s Democratic bid.

Boston, whose group has filed IRS complaints alleging two religious groups violated their tax-exempt status by using official resources to back Huckabee, said there’s nothing wrong with clergy acting as private citizens to support candidates.

He said the 2008 presidential election has seen a “staggering” focus on religion, including the courting of religious leaders. So, he said, he wasn’t “surprised that clergy would be taking the next step as individuals and backing whatever candidate they happen to like.”

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