Faith, Money, Politics, and Citizens United: A way forward
January 30, 2013
Making Money & Politics an Issue of Faith
Introduction: Overwhelming majorities of American citizens support meaningful reforms to get money out of politics and to restore a democracy for, of, and by the people.
However, it is less clear how to mobilize more than the usual “progressive” suspects behind reforms, which in most scenarios is the only realistic path to the large majorities needed for reform on Citizens United, public financing of elections, and other measures. An Auburn case study shows that the faith community can help build the large majorities needed for reform.
Following a pilot project in the fall of 2012, we contend that the faith community, especially emerging and conservative faith communities, holds a key to a broader national coalition critical to the future of this movement. Faith communities are well positioned to make money and politics a non-partisan or bi-partisan issue, and to raise the topic on the terms of right and wrong rather than one of policy or partisanship.
We recommend far greater and sustained investment of resources, time, and energy from national organizations and the funding community, through faith-based organizations with credibility in communities of faith, to build the operational capacity to locate, reach, persuade, and mobilize emerging and conservative faith communities on the issue of money in politics. We also recommend a more direct involvement of faith-based organizations and leaders in this broader fight that has the potential to bend almost every issue towards, or away from, justice.
2012 Campaign: In the fall of 2012, Auburn Seminary began an effort to build an unusually diverse audience of faith leaders to support two state ballot initiatives calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and to begin to grow a national faith constituency to reject the unrestricted flow of big money into political campaigns. We saw a need to intentionally approach faith communities to encourage their leadership on the issue of money and politics and to develop a larger base of faith leaders ready to take action nationally and at the state level on this issue.
Two corporate personhood propositions on the ballot in Montana and Colorado tell an interesting story. Both passed by wide margins: one in a swing state, the other in a state that went largely uncontested for Romney (Montana voted 55%-42% for Romney). This provides hard evidence of what polls have been showing for the past year, namely that Citizens United and its expansion of the corporate personhood doctrine is rejected by Americans of all partisan and ideological stripes. The same was true among the range of faith leaders who joined the Auburn effort.
Auburn’s campaign joined these efforts late, just a couple of months before Election Day. Yet in that short time it made some surprising discoveries in its outreach to faith leaders about the potential for the community’s involvement, despite the challenges of explaining the problem of unlimited money in politics in a way that appeals to the heart as well as the head.
The Auburn-led coalition was also able to mobilize faith leaders in support of these referenda – pulling substantially from moderate evangelical communities, Hispanic communities, the Black Church, and from mainline communities as well.
In Montana, 22 clergy, including Lutheran Bishop Jessica Crist, signed on in support.
In Colorado, 40+ clergy joined in support, including Dr. Gregory G. Fell, Superintendent, Rocky Mountain District, Evangelical Free Church of America, Rev. Dr. Jim Ryan, Colorado Council of Churches, Rev. José F. Morales, Jr., Executive Regional Minister, Central Rocky Mountain Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and Rev. Anne Dunlap, Comunidad Liberación/Liberation Community.  
Nationally, the signers include Rev. Jim Wallis, CEO and President, Sojourners, Dr. Walter Brueggeman, Theologian, Rev. Walter Contreras, Director of Outreach and Hispanic Ministries, Pacific Southwest Conference for the Evangelical Covenant Church, Rev. Stephen A. Hayner, President and Prof of Leadership Development, Columbia Theological Seminary, Rev. Juan Francisco Martínez, Ph.D., Associate Provost for Diversity and International Programs, Fuller Theological Seminary, Bishop Dean Nelson, Southwest California Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Dr. Paul Louis Metzger, Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture, Multnomah University, and many others (see the full list below).
Conversations with these and other clergy provided interesting insight into how best to make the case on this issue. Messages below are ranked in order of efficacy. These messages were tested in one-on-one conversations with key clergy, via statistics in email blasts and recruitment letters, and via consultations with faith-based organizers and theologians.
The Wide Coalition: The coalition’s signers were about evenly split between the Black Church, Moderate Evangelicals, Hispanic Communities, Mainstream Progressives (where we place most of our Jewish signers), proving that this movement has supporters and relevance across faiths and provides us an opportunity to strengthen multifaith relationships and social justice movements.
The Future: Campaign finance reform – specifically, the issue of Super PAC spending – is likely to be another issue with some bi-partisan momentum. Memories are short, but at least for now elected officials and the voting public are aware of the damage caused by unlimited campaign spending. Yet, overall the story of this election as told by the media was not corporate capture of government; the public is more likely to have seen wealthy individuals – not corporations - making huge contributions. 
There is some good reason for optimism about the future of reform efforts. First, the two ballot initiatives did very well, even among non-Democrats. Second, the President expressed his support for an amendment. Third, the public and its representatives are unhappy with the massive campaign spending. Fourth, Gov. Cuomo’s pledge to prioritize campaign finance reform provides a new and potent opportunity to make New York State the “tip of the spear” on campaign finance reform and to spark new, innovative organizing tactics in faith communities alongside the state-wide effort. But regardless of the immediate term possibility of reform, it is far more likely that this movement will need to be committed to a fight lasting a decade or longer before meaningful progress will be made.
We recommend that the broader Money and Politics movement invest in the following:
 Polling commissioned by Free Speech for People, executed by Hart Research and Associates. December 2010 to January 2011: http://freespeechforpeople.org/sites/default/files/FSFP%20Nationwide%20Voter%20Survey-1.pdf
 Bishop Jessica Crist Op-Ed in Missoulian:
 Colorado Press release:
 Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson in the Washington Post:
 “Incumbents hit hard by attack ads considering tightening campaign finance laws,” New York Times. October 12, 2012.