Meet the Evangelical Cabal Orchestrating the Shutdown

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This post first appeared in The Nation.

The Capitol in Washington is seen under an overcast sky at dawn. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File )

At Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse, a small shop next to Union Station and around the corner from the Heritage Foundation, “fair trade” coffee is dispensed and Christian books are available for customers to read.

A group of political operatives and evangelical firebrands behind the strategy to shut down the government over healthcare reform couldn’t have picked a more unassuming meeting place. Though the more famous “Wednesday meeting” is across town at the offices of Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the shutdown plotters often meet at a weekly lunch held on Wednesday at the event space of Ebenezer’s. (The group also meets regularly on Wednesday mornings at the offices of the Family Research Council.)

This other Wednesday group is a convening of the Conservative Action Project, an ad hoc coalition created in the early years of the Obama administration to reorganize the conservative movement.

The coalition is managed by Heritage and the Council for National Policy. The latter organization, once dubbed as “the most powerful conservative group you’ve never heard of,” is a thirty-year-old nonprofit dedicated to transforming the country into a more right-wing Christian society. Founded by Tim LaHaye, the Rapture-obsessed author of the Left Behind series, CNP is now run by Christian-right luminaries such as Phyllis Schlafly, Tony Perkins and Kenneth Blackwell.

Yesterday, The New York Times revealed in great detail how the Conservative Action Project has orchestrated the current showdown. The group initially floated the idea of attaching funding for Obamacare to the continuing resolution, and followed up with grassroots organizing, paid advertisements and a series of events designed to boost the message of senators like Ted Cruz.

Though the Heritage Foundation, through its 501(c)(4) Heritage Action sister organization, has played a lead role in sponsoring advertisements and town-hall meetings, tax disclosures reviewed by show that the Council for National Policy has provided a steady stream of funding for the organizing effort.

In my new book published this year, The Machine: A Field Guide the Resurgent Right, I profiled how the Conservative Action Project came about, and how its existence sparked a schism within the conservative movement. The group has played a background role in several high-profile political debates.

It was this rival Wednesday group that gave rise to the farcical “Ground Zero Mosque” conspiracy in 2010. The Conservative Action Project also played a consequential role in whipping up opposition to a number of key Obama judicial nominees, including judges David Hamilton and Goodwin Liu. Through rapid-fire memos and coalition advocacy, the Conservative Action Project can claim large responsibility for the fact that Obama has been deprived more than any modern American president of appointing judges of his choice for the federal bench.

But like the quagmire that GOP leaders find themselves in today, the hard-charging Conservative Action Project has bristled at establishment criticism in the past. Notably, it was the Conservative Action Project that first courted controversial Senate candidates like Christine O’Donnell and Joe Miller. For my book, I spoke to Colin Hanna, a Conservative Action Project leader, who told me that through weekly meetings with Republican legislators, his coalition members were able to persuade Republican campaign committees to generally back off and allow their insurgent candidates to compete in GOP primaries. O’Donnell later went on to cost the GOP one of its most prized Senate seats.

In another episode that enraged the Republican establishment, Republican Study Commission employees were caught encouraging conservative advocacy groups to attack the debt-ceiling deal negotiated by President Obama and Speaker Boehner in 2011. The story, reported by Politico, noted that RSC employee Wesley Goodman e-mailed a listserv, “We need statements coming up to the Hill every hour of the day in mounting opposition to the plan.” Goodman now officially works for the Conservative Action Project, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Many of the leaders involved in this effort are well-known Christian conservative icons, including “Christian Zionist” and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer and Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, an activist famous for his over-the-top attacks on the gay community.

The group has engaged in clashes with libertarian-leaning GOP leaders, particularly Norquist. That is not to say the group is not well connected with well-heeled interest groups.

The board of the Council for National Policy, the Conservative Action Project’s sponsor, features Michael Grebe, an influential Republican lawyer who leads the Bradley Foundation — a GOP money machine with close ties to Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus and Governor Scott Walker. The Heritage Foundation’s Ed Meese and Becky Norton Dunlop, both well-respected among mainstream Republicans, are said to be prime players in the effort.

Kevin Gentry, a key employee of Koch Industries’s lobbying subsidiary Koch Public Sector, has served on the board of CNP. Gentry now helped to run the new $250 million fund for conservative advocacy groups called Freedom Partners and manages the twice-annual secret gatherings for Charles Koch’s cohorts. (It was at a CNP gathering that Charles Koch once compared himself to the theologian Martin Luther.)

One CNP official has a surprising connection to President Obama and the shutdown. Since 2009, a consultant named Patrick Pizzella has helped to ensure that the Conservative Action Project achieves its goals. For a fee of $133,333, he’s been the highest paid full-time employee since 2009, when the effort began.

In August of this year, President Obama nominated Pizzella to be a member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The FLRA acts as a miniature National Labor Relations Board for federal workers, helping to arbitrate disputes between federal employees and labor unions. Two months later, 800,000 federal employees now find themselves at home because of Pizzella’s political project.

Lee Fang is a reporting fellow with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. He covers money in politics, conservative movements and lobbying. Follow him on Twitter @lhfang.
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  • Arm of Keaau

    Once again, it only goes to shows that the Taliban has nothing on the United State’s right-wing Christian Party and it’s Citizens United backed mountain of money to destroy this nation. (_: FBI

  • Thinkyhead

    Clearly they’re just sharing their love of fearing things that aren’t real. We should appreciate their concern for our addiction to reality.

  • lambchop

    Thanks for this informative article. I’m deeply disturbed by this news that people proclaiming to be Christians have resorted to Satanic practices to get their way. But at least now we know who is responsible, and we can confront them.

  • Janice Peters-Hill

    Thanks for sharing this article Mr. Moyers. The information is valuable for people to know. I wish more people would take the time to educate themselves about whats going on so quietly. I would not know where to find out about these things if it weren’t for people like you bringing it out into the light.

  • LouiseM

    Between the money that these guys command, the completely ahistorical nature of the church/state divide that their followers believe in, and the obviously done deal in the Supreme Court case “McCutcheon v..”. I find it hard to have any hope of seeing the America that I was born into, and that has been in decline since I was in high school, once again before I die. It feels so lost now. I am scared by the very real possibilities.

  • Betty Eyer

    The point is that many of these “actions” are not comparable to what anyone is doing in other fields of political action. For instance, avoiding the placement of federal judges; this actually works against our system of checks and balances and what the choice of the populace dictates (they did elect the man. twice.). Neither left wing nor libertarians are trying to replace our basic form of government with one “ruled” by a particular definition of God.

  • Anonymous

    The very thing they fear…the end of our country, is what they alone are willing to bring about to prove they are correct.

    Believing God will not bless us as a nation, unless we cleanse it from gay and abortion rights, these people are willing to stand by faith until the ground crumbles around them.

  • Anonymous

    Wondering how vocal you are allowed to be! I left the right wing pew quite some time ago. My friends and family tolerate me, but won’t engage in the conversation because they feel I can’t be Christian and left-wing, let along an activist. I have become a back-slidden believer, for which they are fervently praying for.

  • Jack Washington

    These ‘Christians’ give Jesus Christ reason for concern. Their feigned belief system is as skewed as the worst ‘unbelievers’. Real Christians are not anarchists and seditionists! Real Christians are compassionate to each other and all humankind and do not force-feed the message of Christ. Christians are to spread the Good News (Gospel) about the fact that Christ, the Messiah, was obedient to the Father and gave his human life up for us all, to pay the price of man’s enmity against God.

  • Russ Klettke

    Proof once again that millions of Americans allow “faith” to substitute for critical thinking. These cabals wouldn’t have a chance if their millions of supporters and followers bothered to connect the dots as well as is done in this article.

  • Josh Graciano

    The CNP and CAP should be careful what they wish for. When they get their wish and the country falls apart, they won’t get the nice parts or the nice people. And no one to protect them from their billionaire benefactors.

  • Anonymous

    These are not Evangelicals – they are Dominionists. Evangelicals are considered outliers because they function within democracy, are motivated by social justice. Dominionists believe they are The Elect, the Constitution covers only them, and that wealth should be limited to the ‘right kind’ of Christians – themselves. Get the terminology correct because these folks are very dangerous. They desire the end of government as the prelude to their taking it all over. Evangelicals such as Jim Wallis are fighting AGAINST them as are mainline Protestants who all believe in justice and democracy, in equality and the Constitution. Dominionists are also the C Street people to whom Hillary Clinton has ties. They are everywhere – one individual does not make for danger, but the Tea Party is now in their possession, and Rand Paul is one of them. So much for the Libertarians. Be very aware of who they are – and who they are not.

  • Anonymous

    No. One single person is not the issue. Standing against the collective force of the Tea Party is. He is not giving ANYTHING away to anyone – if you’d follow Center for Budget & Policy Priorities (Jared Bernstein) you’d know that. Put your focus where it is needed – on the extremists in the GOP. They and only they are the danger. All the hand wringing about what the president supposedly has done is based on total misinformation and has stripped you of any kind of effective action. If you’re afraid of the Right you should be. Now go out and STOP them instead of aiding them with your handwringing and do-nothing hype.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry – they are the same thing. The Dominionists have captured the Tea Party as their vehicle to destroying America.

  • Anonymous

    Well by all means throw all the Christians who are fighting these people under the bus and losing critical alliances. That’s helpful. Not.

  • Rixar13

    To: Attorney General Eric Holder, United States Department of Justice

    Signed and Shared.

  • Pam Miner

    Dominionists are not really very Christian at all. They do not believe in the things Jesus taught and did, and told us to do.