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Thursday, 29 September 2011 09:19

Watch Out, Democrats: A New Silicon Valley-Funded Group is Preparing to Rock the Conservative Christian Vote

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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

"As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election," Ari Berman recently wrote in Rolling Stone magazine, "Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008." Amongst the methods being put forward in Republican-controlled state houses across the country are initiatives making registering to vote a much more difficult and laborious process.

In a piece titled "The GOP War on Voting," Berman reported that "Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering [while] Florida and Texas made it harder for groups like the League of Women Voters to register new voters [and] Maine repealed Election day voter registration."

According to Berman, "legislation to impose new restrictions on voter registration guides run by groups like Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters," has been introduced in six states. The most egregious piece of legislation was passed in Florida where, "anyone who signs up new voters [must] hand in registration forms to the state board of elections within 48 hours of collecting them, and to comply with a barrage of onerous, bureaucratic requirements." The submission of late forms would be subject to a $1,000 fine and "possible felony prosecution."

None of these barriers, however, appear to be of particular concern to the folks running United in Purpose, a newly-minted conservative organization that claims to be non-partisan, and which aims to register tens of millions of conservative Christian voters in time for the 2012 elections.

Team United in Purpose

United in Purpose is a non-profit group founded by Silicon Valley venture capitalists, and run by CEO Bill Dallas and COO Reid Rutherford. Its major project is called Champion The Vote.

Bill Dallas' story is sort of Chuck Colson-lite: He, "lost his thriving real-estate business when he was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in San Quentin State Prison," his official bio states. Unlike Colson, who formed a prison ministry and has become fully redeemed in the eyes of his conservative Christian brethren, Dallas re-entered the world of private enterprise.

"After his release in August 1995, he founded Church Communication Network (CCN), now the world's largest satellite-based training network for churches. Dallas co-hosts Solutions, a weekly satellite program with Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, and he is the coauthor, with George Barna, of Lessons from San Quentin: Everything I Needed to Know about Life I Learned in Prison."

Rutherford's story has a more traditional Silicon Valley ring to it. He founded several Silicon Valley finance and technology companies, including: eFinance Corporation, a pioneer of online credit delivery services; Concord Growth Corporation, a large independent California commercial finance company; and Research Applications for Management, a provider of decision support software for transit agencies throughout North America.

Rutherford is also the CEO of Photon Energy, which is, according to its website, "a turn-key developer of distributed and utility scale solar-electric generation plants." It was recently announced that Photon was one of several companies to win "solar development contracts" with the U.S. Navy, which, Rutherford said, was the company's "largest contractual award to date."

"Photon is pleased to have been recognized by the Navy as having the proven expertise to develop third-party financed solar projects," said Rutherford. "Solar is becoming more competitive yearly. Our innovative solar finance structures offer the Navy an excellent way to save money while reducing reliance on international energy sources."

While "most of its financial supporters remain anonymous," the Los Angeles Times reported, "one of its main backers is technology entrepreneur Ken Eldred, a generous Republican donor," and a friend and contributor to Donald Wildmon's vigorously anti-gay American Family Association. Eldred, the Times reported, "founded companies such as Ariba Technologies and Inmac, [and] has donated $1.1 million to Republican candidates since 2005, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, and is now raising money for Perry's presidential bid."

He told the newspaper that Champion the Vote, "did not have a partisan agenda." "I have the audacity to believe that we can be an influence on both parties," Eldred said. "I personally believe that someday we're going to stand before God, and he's going to pull out a ballot and say, 'How did you vote in this election?' And there are going to be people who say, 'Why do you care about that, God?' And he's going to say, 'Because I created that country and I put you in charge.'"

When asked how much money he was putting into the project, Eldred refused to say exactly; "It's not cheap, I can tell you that," he said.

"Change American culture for the good, with the Bible as our standard of truth."

According to its website, the organization's "core mission" is "to change American culture for the good, with the Bible as our standard of truth":

Its "strategy": "Support, facilitate and advocate the initiatives of like-minded ministries and organizations to multiply their reach, influence and impact."

Its "purpose": "bring positive, Biblical change to America."

Its "goals": "To educate and mobilize Americans" in the "key areas of": "Biblical worldview, Civic responsibility, Ethical behavior, [and] Moral standards."

"Our goal is to raise up a body of believers and that they elect a lot of godly leaders," said Dallas. "We're about the agenda of the lamb, Jesus Christ," he added.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the group, "is using sophisticated data-mining techniques to compile a database of every unregistered born-again and evangelical Christian and conservative Catholic in the country."

Two examples from the conservative movement's past, regarding the successful consolidation, and sophisticated (for the time) use, of databases and mail lists, are worth noting:

In 2005, I wrote a piece for Media Transparency about how Richard Viguerie took his first steps toward becoming the King of direct mail:
"In 1965," after Viguerie discovered "that those who had contributed $50 or more to electoral campaigns had their names registered with the clerk of the House of Representatives, he went down to Capitol Hill and got his hands on a list of 12,000 individual contributors to the Goldwater campaign." (Viguerie, supposedly, hand-copied each name.)

In 1989, shortly after Pat Robertson's failed run for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, the newly formed Christian Coalition converted a campaign mailing list into the most influential and technologically sophisticated grassroots political force on the right.

Although it claims to be non-partisan, United in Purpose has partnered with Christian organizations (including Wildmon's AFA) and anti-abortion groups in order, "to recruit 100,000 ‘champions' to identify unregistered Christians and get them to the polls as part of its Champion the Vote project," the Times reported. "Profiles drawn from its database, which numbers more than 120 million people, will enable organizers to target potential voters with emails and web videos tailored to their interests."

According to People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch, "United In Purpose was the group responsible for the Rediscover God in America conference in Iowa earlier this year which was organized by David Lane ... who also so happened to also serve as the National Finance Chairman for [Texas Governor Rick] Perry's prayer rally."

Sarah Posner recently reported in Religion Dispatches that, "Just 12 days after" Perry's The Response rally took place in Houston, Wildmon, whose AFA "bankrolled the event, sent an email to registrants introducing the United in Purpose voter registration project Champion the Vote. Wildmon wrote, ‘research has shown that it takes only 5 million voters to influence the outcome of an election. This is a do-able goal, and Champion the Vote is seeking Champions - an army of volunteers -- to help with the effort. A Champion is simply a Christian talking to other Christians about registering and voting.'"

On November 12, Posner added, United in Purpose, "will host ‘One Nation Under God' house parties, at which participants will watch video of speakers including Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and the religious right historian David Barton."

The League of Women Voters will not be carrying out registration efforts in Florida, and a Rock the Vote spokesperson has said that they will try to continue its work, but that there were no guarantees that it could.

Just because an organization promises this, that, or the other thing, doesn't necessarily mean that it will succeed. Over the years, the Internet has been littered with right-wing organization's lofty political goals. Often they turn out be temporary attempts at making some noise, or flat out empty promises.

Ralph Reed, the former executive director of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition whose electoral ambitions wer sidetracked by his involvement with Republican Party uber lobbyist, the scandal-plagued Jack Abramoff, told the Los Angeles Times that while not "every lofty plan to register and educate evangelical and Catholic voters comes to fruition ... . the multiplicity and intensity of the efforts underway suggest Obama and the Democrats will compete on a much more even playing field than they were in 2008."

United in Purpose, however, has several things going for it: significant financial backing; reliable allies; and Silicon Valley knowhow. It just might deliver as promised.

Meanwhile, it's anybody's guess what kind of voter registration efforts will be mounted by the Democratic Party. How they will overcome the egregious obstacles being placed in the way of registering new voters, is open to question.

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