Wednesday, January 26

Faith Based Fraud

The Faith-Based Fraud

Mon Jan 24,10:55 AM ET
Ari Berman

After its highly touted unveiling, President Bush (news - web sites)'s faith-based initiative has proceeded largely under the radar. But a lack of attention hasn't shielded the program's constitutional questionability, or its brutal effectiveness.

In 2003--according to White House data reported by the Los Angeles Times--Bush doled out $1 billion to hundreds of faith-based groups through a little-noted executive order. More importantly, the Bush Administration used the grants to sway influential African-Americans in key battleground states and reward longtime political supporters at taxpayer expense.

For example, after the Rev. Herb Lusk II delivered the invocation at the 2000 Republican convention, his Philadelphia church received $1 million in federal funds. Bishop Harold Ray, who offered the invocation at a rally for Dick Cheney (news - web sites) in Palm Beach, Florida, got $1.7 million for his South Florida ministry. In 2002 Bush personally visited Milwaukee's Bishop Sedgwick Daniels--who voted for Clinton and Gore--and later awarded him a $1.5 million grant. This fall, Daniels's face appeared on Republican Party fliers in Wisconsin, endorsing Bush as a man who "shares our views."

The faith-based initiatives likely played a crucial role in increasing Bush's take of the black vote, especially in targeted swing states. Funnily enough, the campaign held grant-writing workshops in St. Louis in September (when Missouri was still in play) and Miami in October.

Moreover, it's unclear exactly how much money is going where. The recent White House data contains a caveat that it represents all grants. Even the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's cultish Unification Church has received funding. And House Republicans allegedly blocked Democrat Chet Edwards from investigating the money flow.

When the initiative's first director, John Dilulio, resigned after six months on the job, he called White House policy-makers "Mayberry Machiavellis" who "consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest, black-and-white terms for public consumption, then steering legislative initiatives or policy proposals as far right as possible."

Bush plans to highlight the initiative in his State of the Union address and reintroduce the expanded legislation before the new Republican Congress. The number-one "Mayberry Machiavelli" keeps confusing holy work with partisan gain.

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