Mixed in with the thousands of corporate lobbyists on Capitol Hill each day is an unusual troop: religious advocates whose numbers have increased five-fold in recent decades and spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year, according to a new study.
The report by the Pew Forum appears to be the most extensive research on lobbyists and advocates who come from a faith perspective. The biggest spenders include AIPAC, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and established social conservatives who focus on opposing abortion and same-sex marriage, among other things.
There are 212 faith-oriented advocacy groups that spend $390 million per year, according to the report.
The work of religious advocates mirrors the issues on the rise in America; the early lobbying groups focused on temperance and funding for Native American schools. Their focus — and the groups themselves — then switched over the decades to focus on the Vietnam War, the passage of Roe v Wade, and today’s groups have waded much more into foreign affairs.
Compared with the budgets of the corporate lobbyists, who make up the vast majority of Hill advocates, that of the religious groups is small. But veterans say they have a particular clout that can wield influence at unexpected times.
“We don’t make endorsements, we don’t give campaign contributions, we don’t even write thank you notes. No one is going on a golfing vacation in Scotland with us. But we have assets others don’t — a consistent set of principles,” said John Carr, a policy advocate for the Catholic bishops, who first came to the Hill in the 1970s. “I think there is a grudging respect for consistency, even with people who disagree with us.”
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