A former White House official reveals how politics and cynicism warped a noble idea to help the poor.
[During a similar event the next year in Atlanta] Ralph Reed surveyed the enormous ballroom with wide eyes. He looked back at me. "Do you realize what you've done here? Do you realize what this is? This is what Republicans have been trying to do for the last 20 years. For the last 20 years we've tried to find a way to get this kind of an audience into a room. "
Ralph knew why I invited him. He pulled out his cell phone, dialed a number and exclaimed, "Karl, I'm down here in Atlanta at the faith-based conference. You've won't believe what we've got here. You've got 3,000 people, mostly minorities, applauding a stinkin' video of the president. This is unbelievable. THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE!!"
More than a dozen conferences with more than 20,000 faith and community leaders were held in 2003 and 2004 in every significant battleground state, including two in Florida, one in Miami ten days before the 2004 election. Their political power was incalculable. They were completely off the media's radar screen.
While the conferences were being birthed, we were also figuring out what to do with the Compassion Capital Fund. Promised originally at $200 million per year then cut in early 2001 to $100 million, and then again to $30 million, it was only faith-based money we had to distribute [even though $8 billion of new money had originally been promised].
Many of the grant-winning organizations that rose to the top of this process were politically friendly to the administration. Bishop Harold Ray of Redemptive Life Fellowship Church in West Palm Beach had been one of the most vocal black voices supporting the president during the 2000 election. His newly-created National Center for Faith-Based Initiatives somehow scored a 98 out of a possible 100. Pat Robertson's overseas aid organization, Operation Blessing, scored a 95.67. Nueva Esperanza, an umbrella of other Hispanic ministries, headed by President Bush's leading Hispanic ally, Luis Cortez, received a 95.33. The Institute for Youth Development, that works to send positive messages to youth, earned a 94.67. The Institute's head was a former Robertson staffer. Even more bizarre, a new organization called "We Care America" received a 99.67 on its grant review. It was the second highest score. They called themselves a "network of networks" an "organizer of organizations". They had a staff of three, all from the world of Washington politics, and all very Republican. They were on tap to receive more than $2.5 million.