It may be the most powerful political caucus you’ve never heard of.
In the aftermath of the 2004 elections, Nancy Pelosi, then leader of the House Democratic Caucus, arranged for the creation of the Democratic Faith Working Group. She wanted Democratic politicians to learn to use religious belief as a marketing tool, as the Republicans had for so long.
So, the Democratic Faith Working Group began contacting religious leaders, promising them the ability to gain influence within the Democratic Party, and the power to shape government policy, should the Democrats regain control of Congress.
Pelosi kept her promise. When the Democrats retook the House and Senate in 2006, the Democratic Faith Working Group stayed active, organizing meetings between members of Congress and religious leaders at which religious leaders were given special direct input into the crafting of legislative and the direction of the Democratic agenda.
But, which members of Congress are on the Democratic Faith Working Group, and which religious leaders does it meet with? When and where does the group meet, and what topics does it discuss? That information isn’t easy to find. The Democratic Faith Working Group has been organized in such a way as to avoid public scrutiny. Jim Clyburn acknowledges being the chair of the organization, and Silvestre Reyes describes himself as a member. Other members have chosen not to reveal their identities.
The group is so secretive that it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry – not even a stump.
Why is the Democratic Faith Working Group operating in secret?
Part of the reason for the secrecy may be interest in political stealth. Old fashioned power brokering may also be behind the group’s low profile.
The Democratic Faith Working Group appears to have become part of the revolving door structure in Washington D.C. through which people gain power by trading personal connections for cash. For example, Burns Strider, the first Director of the Democratic Faith Working Group, then went on to work for Hillary Clinton’s campaign as an advisor on the politics of religion. When Clinton’s campaign failed, he became a lobbyist, and founded the Eleison Group, a consulting firm that makes money instructing Democratic congressional candidates how to gain favor with voters by talking about religion. Strider is now profiting from selling to the market he created through the Democratic Faith Working Group.
Churches that consult with the Democratic Faith Working Group may be gaining money as well. They’re building cozy relationships with Democratic Party insiders at a time when a Democratic President is in control of George W. Bush’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, which gives large amounts of public money to religious organizations. That White House Office was expanded by Barack Obama, but has not been subjected to the reforms that Obama promised when he campaigned for President in 2008. The Democratic Party obtains its own political advantage from the arrangement, given that the religious leaders who get government money have an interest in seeing that the politicians who enabled their profitable contacts are re-elected.
Given the relationships of power that flow through the Democratic Faith Working Group, it is in the public’s interest to know who is involved in the group, when those people meet, and what matters of policy they discuss. When religious leaders are given access over paths of influence over the federal government, their actions should be made open and accountable to the American people.