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Religious right political giving is unusually quiet in Colorado this year

October 29, 2016 Updated: October 29, 2016 at 5:05 pm
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If money equals political speech, then the voice of God has largely been silent in Colorado during this election.

Normally a powerhouse bloc, faith-based political organizations' donations have been rare, campaign finance reports indicate, partly because neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton inspire Christian fervor. Typical wedge issues such as abortion and gay rights aren't on the ballot to drive political contributions or turnout.

"The top of the ticket is very challenging, but we've always focused on state races," said Paul Weber, the president and chief executive of the Family Policy Alliance, the political partner for Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, the religious right's heavyweight in many political discussions. "There's only one federal race, and that's for president. All of the other races are state-based," Weber said.

Formerly known as Citizenlink, the organization changed its name to Family Policy Alliance this year to better reflect its chapters in 40 states, Weber said.

Even so, this time around the alliance and other religion-based political organizations don't show up among the top committees donating to Colorado legislative races. Their absence, so far, is apparent all the way up the ballot.

In 2012 in Colorado, Citizenlink spent $30,000 trying to defeat the legalization of recreational marijuana, and another $103,000 supporting various individual candidates' campaigns.

"I won't speak about legislators we're behind at this point, but we can have this conversation after the election," Weber said.

Instead, he pointed to the online voters guides the alliance publishes for values voters.

Citizenlink invested heavily in the top of the ticket four years ago.

Mitt Romney collected more than $1.5 million from the Colorado Springs-based operation that so far has spent nothing directly to help Donald Trump.

In 2014, it spent $749,382 on nine Republican candidates, including $98,302 on the successful campaign of Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner.

This year, it has yet to show up on individual campaign disclosures, including nothing for U.S. Senate candidate Darryl Glenn, the El Paso county commissioner who has campaigned as an "unapologetic Christian conservative."

Said Weber, "We're behind the races that are of interest and of value to our constituents with people who are in favor of family values, sanctity of life, religious freedom and, frankly, the bedrock values of our society."

On questions about his ability to raise campaign cash from usually reliable conservative sources, Glenn has pointed to his individual donors. Their motivations around faith would be difficult to discern.

Of the roughly $3 million Glenn has raised, the National Pro-Life Alliance gave $2,500, half that of the Asplundh Tree Expert Political Action Committee. Doing the Utmost for God, Liberty and Security (DOUGLAS), U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn's leadership PAC, gave Glenn $1,000, which is half of what the Colorado Springs congressman's group gave U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora.

But less political spending by major organizations speaks volumes.

"Certainly if they're spending less, to be cynical, they're going to have less influence," said Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, which closely monitors campaign finance issues.

Rob Boston,spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that for years the religious-right organizations have been closely identified with the Republican Party.

"In the early days of this movement, some religious leaders talked about taking over the party and using it as a vehicle for conservative social change," he said in an email exchange. "Many years later, it looks to a lot of us like it wasn't the GOP that was co-opted, it was the religious right."

Boston said he has attended those organization's gatherings and was surprised by the amount of discussion about government policies such as taxes, health care plans, the budget deficit and trade deals.

"It's like the Heritage Foundation with a thin veneer of prayer, and social issues take a back seat, if they are discussed at all," he said.

While some in the religious right stand with Trump, Boston surmised that "not all conservative evangelicals are on board, and we're seeing a split between the old guard and younger activists."

"If anything of value comes out of this unpleasant political season, it could be that some thoughtful religious conservatives begin to question the wisdom of hitching their movement to a political party," he said.

Colorado State Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, an ordained minister, host of a nationally shown religious news TV show and a statehouse warrior for religious liberty issues, thinks cash and establishment donors are overrated. For social conservatives, success is measured in passion rather than dollars, he said.

"Within the GOP tent is the big-money establishment that won't give to moderate Republicans," said Klingenschmitt, who lost in a primary for the state Senate in June. "But moderate Republicans don't inspire people to go knock on doors."

He thinks Glenn's faith is well-known among Christian voters. He pointed to Texas Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, whose strong presidential primary race against Trump was driven by values voters, who campaigned with Glenn recently.

"There's still a lot of room out there for a candidate like Ted Cruz," Klingenschmittt said.

Bob Loevy, a professor emeritus of political science at Colorado College and a Republican, thinks the marriage between the religious right and conservative candidates is undergoing a separation, not a divorce.

"The Republican Party, unfortunately, is stuck with what in my way of thinking are non-candidates in the presidential and U.S. Senate races," he said.

Glenn's religious values aside, the Republican Senate candidate entered the race with no experience running a statewide race, failed to create a winning campaign organization, failed to raise money and failed to articulate a clear campaign message, Loevy said.

"They're not the only ones sitting this one out," Loevy said of those traditional donors who aren't donating to Glenn.

If faith was lost in the candidates, that doesn't necessarily apply to religious political principles, he said,

"I think that once this race is decided, I mean,if they lose, the Republicans and the religious right will pick up the pieces and try to be competitive in the future," Loevy said.

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