God’s Lobbyists: The Hidden Realm of Religious Influence
On the first day, according to the Book of Genesis, the Lord said, “Let there be light.”
But when it comes to the government lobbying efforts of most religious institutions, their activities are notably shrouded in darkness, even as representatives of numerous faiths routinely pressure federal lawmakers on issues ranging from health care to international relations, poverty to abortion rights.
This is largely by government design. In 1995, when Congress passed the Lobbying Disclosure Act in 1995, it provided for a few exceptions, including lobbying communications made by a “church, its integrated auxiliary or a convention or association of churches that is exempt from filing a federal income tax return,” as well as a “religious order.”
The only instances in which a church must disclose their lobbying is if spends a “substantial” amount of money on lobbying, if more than 20 percent of its lobbyist’s income is from direct lobbying on behalf of the church or if it hires an outside lobbying firm. Then, the hired firm is required to disclose that it has lobbied on behalf of a religious institution. The “substantial” test is a murky one, with little enforcement of it, and as is the 20 percent rule, unless attention is drawn to the organization.
People of faith are divided on whether this lobbying disclosure exception is appropriate.