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Religious Lobby on the Rise

Michael Beckel

The religious lobby is on the rise, according to a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The number of religious organizations playing the influence game in Washington has swelled since 1970, according to the Pew study. In 1970, less than 40 groups were involved with lobbying or advocacy efforts. Now, that number has risen to more than 200.

The Pew report notes that lobbying for the faithful is often a multi-million-dollar prerogative.

Pew estimated that more than 200 groups currently spend a combined nearly $400 million a year on lobbying and advocacy work.

As OpenSecrets Blog has previously noted, only some of this is directly disclosed to Congress in the form of regular lobbying reports.

When Congress passed the Lobbying Disclosure Act in 1995, it provided for a few exceptions to disclosure rules, 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 its lobbying is if it 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.

Nevertheless, research by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that lobbying by religious organizations frequently exceeds $1 million a year.

In 2007, the highest year on record, 34 religious groups spent a combined $3.7 million on lobbying and hired 108 lobbyists, according to the Center's research.

During the first three quarters of this year, 23 religious groups spent a combined $1.7 million on lobbying and hired 68 lobbyists, according to the Center's research.

Some of the big religious groups to report lobbying so far this year include the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Knights of Columbus and the Church of Scientology International.

Fourth-quarter lobbying reports will be filed with Congress in January.

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