An analysis of the New York Times' data on religious earmarks reveals details that confound stereotypes about faith-based lobbying.
About a month ago the New York Times (Diana B. Henriques & Andrew W. Lehren) reported on the quantity of Congressional earmarking (aka pork barrel projects) that benefits religious groups. They conveniently offered a database of over 800 instances that they found going back to the 101st Congress in 1989.
I took the opportunity to re-analyze the data by identifying the specific religious affiliations of the groups, and the results were astonishing, especially considering the angle taken by the NY Times article. The groups that gained the most from earmarking were Catholic groups, Jewish groups, and the YMCA, these three accounting for 58% of the dollars and 54% of the grants over the whole period. (There is no mention of Jewish charities or the YMCA in the article.)
Number of grants
The changes over time, as earmarking exploded over the last ten years, show a marked shift in emphasis. Initially, in the 105th Congress (1997-1999), Jewish groups led, with the YMCA close behind. These two accounted for 76% of the total dollars, a bit under $20 million.
In the 106th Congress (1999-2001), Catholic groups roar into the lead, followed by Jewish groups and Christian groups. Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Wesleyan groups show large gains. Taken together, all non-Catholic Christian groups account for 36% of the dollars, which is the highest share they reached. The YMCA fades. The total is about $32 million.
The YMCA captured 31% of the dollars in the 107th Congress (2001-2003). General Christian groups follow, then Jewish, then Catholic. All non-Catholic Christians together hold the line at 35% of the dollars. Total dollars rise to $41 million.
The 108th Congress (2003-2005) is the bonanza, with $192 million in earmarks for religious groups. Catholic groups capture a quarter of that, Jewish groups a fifth, next the YMCA with an eighth. All non-Catholic Christian groups together drop to 31% of the total, but it's a much larger total.
Religious earmarking collapsed to $19 million in the 109th Congress (2005-2007), and the Catholic groups dominate. Jewish groups are off sharply, and the YMCA receives a mere $60,000. All non-Catholic Christian groups together don't win as much as the Catholics.
The NY Times article notes that a driving force behind religious earmarks is a marketing firm, the Russ Reid Company, whose Washington office led by Mark McIntyre has made a business out of earmarking. I can only speculate that the rise and fall of Jewish groups in the earmarking game is somehow related to the career of Jack Abramoff, whose charity work played a central role in his lobbying efforts.
Religious earmarking, it should be clear, is not a grassroots movement. It is a venture hatched by the lobbying firms on K Street in Washington as just another fundraising technology, like direct mail or online giving. We'll have to put venture lobbyists alongside issuepreneurs as the real forces moving civil society in the US in this decade.