- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2011

The recent economic woes appear to have chilled spending by many national religious activist groups, but others — including a group that is fighting to preserve traditional marriage — spent even higher amounts despite the lean times, says a report released Monday.

A record 212 national religious advocacy or lobbying groups have offices in Washington, researchers with Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life said in their report, “Lobbying for the Faithful: Religious Advocacy Groups in Washington, D.C.”

While religious groups have naturally gravitated to highly charged social issues or those dealing with church-state affairs, it has never stopped there, said University of Oklahoma political science professor Allen D. Hertzke, lead researcher of the Pew report and author of the 1988 book, “Representing God in Washington.”

Today, religious activists work on about 300 policy issues, domestic and international, said Mr. Hertzke.

There has been “churn” and “turnover” in issues over the decades — the “temperance” and “sanctuary” movements are no longer front-page news, while new groups on behalf of post-Hurricane Katrina relief, human trafficking and gay marriage have gained visibility, he said.

One-quarter of the 212 religious activist or lobbying groups are interreligious — 54 either represent multiple faiths or advocate without specifying a particular religion.

The top two religious groups are Roman Catholic (41 groups or 19 percent) and evangelical Protestant (39 groups or 18 percent), followed by Jewish (25 groups or 12 percent), Muslim (17 groups or 8 percent) and mainline Protestant (16 groups or 8 percent). Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs also have national offices, as well as secular or atheistic groups such as the American Humanist Association and Secular Coalition for America.

The 212 includes only one historically black Protestant church — the Progressive National Baptist Convention — possibly because these denominations prefer to influence policy via “temporary alliances, permanent coalitions, interfaith efforts and civil rights organizations,” the report said.

When 104 groups’ finances were examined, 56 spent less on advocacy in 2009 than in 2008. These included People for the American Way ($4.5 million), Republican Jewish Coalition ($3.6 million), Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice ($2.3 million) and Susan B. Anthony List ($2.2 million).

Those who spent more in 2009 than in 2008 included the National Organization for Marriage, a national opponent of gay marriage, which saw its spending rise 161 percent, from $3.2 million in 2008 to $8.5 million in 2009. Other groups that ramped up spending in 2009 included the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ($1.3 million), Muslim American Society ($898,681) and CitizenLink, which is affiliated with Focus on the Family ($865,899).

The Pew Research Center identifies itself as a nonpartisan “fact tank” that does not take positions on policy issues.