Over at Focus on the Family this week, it’s been win a big one, and lose $8 million.
Specifically, the ministry scored when the Internal Revenue Service declared that Focus founder James Dobson was not representing his ministry and media empire when he endorsed George W. Bush for president in 2004. He was, according to the feds, simply speaking for his own influential self. Meanwhile, Focus on the Family reported that $8 million in budget shortfalls have resulted in the layoffs of 30 employees, plus another 15 being reassigned within the company.
But the big question that remains unanswered, at least for right now, is, which Republican will Dobson support for president next year?
“If he endorses anybody … he’s not decided to share that information,” Focus spokesman Gary Schneeberger told Colorado Confidential. “He’ll make that decision as a private citizen.”
Schneeberger notes that Dobson, one of the most influential evangelical Christian leaders in the country, is taking more a process of elimination approach than he did when he endorsed Bush. This year John McCain was the first Republican to be dumped, when Dobson told radio talk show host Jerry Johnson that he would not support him under any circumstances. McCain’s cardinal sin? He said this: “I think, uh … I think that gay marriage should be allowed if there’s a ceremony kind of thing, if you wanna call it that … I don’t have any problem with that.”
Another dustup occurred at the end of March, when Dobson told U.S. News and World Report that he didn’t think Fred Thompson was a Christian, and thus, didn’t know if he could support his possible presidential candidacy. When the article appeared, Schneeberger denounced it, calling it a classic case of the secular media trying to distort Dobson’s position – though it was unclear exactly what U.S. News & World Report had gotten wrong.
(However, if a devout evangelical Christian is the only candidate who can fit Dobson’s presidential bill, then Thompson’s announcement this week that he isn’t a regular churchgoer and doesn’t plan to speak about his religion on the stump can’t exactly have helped him.)
And Rudy Giuliani got the Dobson ax in May, when, in a column published online at World Net Daily, the Focus founder said he cannot and will not vote for Giuliani, whom Dobson termed “an unapologetic supporter of abortion on demand.”
“It is an irrevocable decision,” Dobson wrote.
Dobson’s influence over Republican presidential candidates began back in 1996, when every single high-level GOP candidate trekked to Dobson’s Colorado Springs headquarters to kiss his ring and ask for support – which ostensibly meant getting votes from the far-right religious bloc of the Republican Party (notably, Dobson was obviously lukewarm to the GOP’s nominee, Bob Dole, who did not win. Dobson later said that he personally hadn’t voted for Dole.)
Two years ago Dobson was targeted by the Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics and the Colorado Springs-based Citizens Project, who filed IRS complaints alleging he improperly used the tax-exempt Focus on the Family resources to support candidates – a potential violation of the organization’s nonprofit status. This week the IRS ruled that Dobson was acting as an individual when he made his endorsements, for Bush and for several conservatives running for Congress. When Dobson made his endorsements, he used stationary with his own name on it, not that of his ministry – though critics complain that the public does not distinguish between the two.
“We’re not celebrating, we’re not surprised – we were hyper-vigilant in making sure we’re following not just the letter but the spirit of the law,” Schneeberger said following the announcement.
Meanwhile, the 1,200-employee Focus on the Family this week laid off 30 workers, mostly in its constituent response services department (mailroom), and reassigned 15 other workers to other parts of the organization. Schneeberger said that giving is actually up by $1 million this fiscal year, which ends et the end of September. However, a very “aggressive” budget goal of $150 million did not materialize, and is now instead anticipated to be around $142 million.
Focus on the Family relocated to Colorado Springs from Arcadia, Calif. in 1991.
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org