The National Catholic Review

How accurate were recent figures cited by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in their recent report on advocacy/lobbying by religious entities in Washington? The report, "Lobbying for the Faithful," garnered national attention, and the figure Pew calculated for U.S.C.C.B. advocacy, what the bishops do in Washington cannot be legally or practically described as lobbying, raised some eyebrows. At a reported $26.6 million in 2009, the bishops, according to Pew, were only beaten out in Washington spending by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which Pew reports spent $88 million on lobbying in 2008. Pew reported that Catholic Relief Services, at $4.7 million, was the 19th biggest religious spender in Washington.

Now the accuracy of those dollar figures is being challenged by both the U.S.C.C.B and Catholic Relief Services. In a post at the U.S.C.C.B. media blog, U.S.C.C.B. spokesperson Sister Mary Ann Walsh writes: "Pew acknowledges that its figures for religious advocacy groups, such as USCCB, are imprecise. It got its figures from a USCCB consolidated financial statement that listed all kinds of USCCB activities as 'policy activities.' The USCCB may share in the blame for Pew’s skew given its own lack of precision in the statement Pew studied; but 'policy' here cannot be equated with 'public policy.'"

"Imprecise" is certainly a fair assessment of the Pew methodology. According to Walsh, "In estimating advocacy expenses, Pew included costs for the Communications Department, including publishing, media relations, digital media, and Catholic News Service."

While some of the Communications Department and media relations work may arguably be associated with policy advocacy, the other departments are fairly straightforward news and communications organs of the bishops' conference. Not anything anyone would practically associate with Washington lobbying.

Walsh writes: "The USCCB does engage in government relations – not in electioneering – and has three full-time staff assigned to the task. None of them hands out money and the cost of their efforts reaches no where near $26 million. The entire cost of salary and benefits for the entire USCCB staff, in Washington, Miami, New York and Rome, is $29 million, somewhat more than the $26 million Pew claims USCCB pours into lobbying/advocacy. If Pew were right there’d be no funds for USCCB’s central efforts in evangelization, liturgy, helping the poor, educating Catholics, doctrine and canon law."

Likewise CRS officials had a "we wish" moment when they saw the $4.7 million figure used by Pew. Communcations Director John Rivera fired off a complaint to Pew Religion & Public Life Director Luis Lugo, calling that figure "grossly inaccurate and misleading."

"The study cites CRS’ 2009 Annual Report as its source, arbitrarily using the category of Public Awareness to encompass all of CRS’ advocacy activities. However, Public Awareness includes only CRS’ expenditures for our Marketing and Communications department, which does not include any of our Advocacy staff or directly fund any of our core Advocacy activities. To the extent that our Advocacy Unit might request a press release, post something on our website, or order a brochure, these departments would play a role. But it would be a very small percentage of their overall work."

Rivera says CRS's true "advocacy" costs were somewhere in the vicinity of $800k, and he adds that had a Pew researcher contacted CRS before publishing the report, this confusion might have been avoided.

In a response, a Pew official notes that a researcher did try to contact CRS via an email to 'webmaster' and a phone call in April. Now folks who work at places like CRS, which must receive thousands of peices of digital mail each day may judge if that effort were sufficient given the importance of the need for clarity and accuracy for reports like this. But the bottom line is that Pew is standing by its figures, using a broad understanding of advocacy, not limited by IRS definition of same and generously including all efforts by religious organizations "to inform their constituencies and the public about issues of concern and to help shape public policy on those issues." That's an understanding which may make sense within Pews hallowed halls, but out in the real world, I suspect it has led mostly to head scratching.

Rivera and Walsh are seeking corrections from Pew and Pew seems satisified that it has done the best it could with the data at hand and the definitions it was using. Stay tuned.

Comments

JIM MCCREA | 12/1/2011 - 7:10pm
Whenever Catholics crow about numbers coming in and skilfully avoid any attempt to identify how many are going out they are asking for trouble.

And lets face it, membership numbers are self-reported by parishes, religious orders, etc.  There is no external validation of the numbers.

How much money do I have have?  Oh, about $156 million.  Take my word for it.
Anne Chapman | 12/1/2011 - 4:24pm
Yes, Walter. About 20 million new immigrants to the United States balanced out the tens of millions born in the United States who left during approximately the same time period.  
C Walter Mattingly | 12/1/2011 - 2:57pm
For those interested in the growth (decline) of the US Catholic Church, here are the numbers taken from the 2006 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches:

Growth % 5 years(2000-2005) 10 years(1995-2005)   40 years(1965-2005) 

Catholic 9% 15% 49%

Liberal Protestant -7% -13% -41%

Conservative Prot. 2% 3% 43%

Pentacostal Prot. 5% 15% 148%

Last year, while the Catholic Church was one of the few major U.S. denominations to see any growth, the most rapidly growing church of all major denominations was the Orthodox Church.  In general, among the various Christian churches, the ones labelled conservative are holding steady/growing, while the ones labelled liberal, ie Episcopal, Presbyterian-are experiencing alarming membership decline.

 
John Rivera | 12/1/2011 - 9:55am
@Norman

John Rivera from Catholic Relief Services here. We do try to be as transparent as possible in reporting our financials, whether for advocacy or any other CRS program.

You can find the broad strokes of our financial statement in our Annual Report here, starting on page 40: http://www.crs.org/about/finance/pdf/AR_2010.pdf 

Our audited financial statement for FY2010 is available here: http://www.crs.org/about/finance/pdf/2010-financials.pdf 

We list our advocacy expenditure in our IRS Form 990, which as a faith-based organization we are not required to file, but we do so for the sake of transparency. That's why it's called a pro forma 990. You can find the figure on advocacy on page 3 of Schedule C at this link: http://www.crs.org/about/finance/pdf/2009-form-990.pdf

I hope that helps. If you have any additional questions, you can contact me at john.rivera@crs.org
 
Anne Chapman | 11/30/2011 - 4:35pm
It is quite interesting - and revealing - that the bishops are in a huff and protesting Pew's findings on the issue of lobbying expenditures, but have never suggested that Pew's findings on the massive defection of tens of millions of cradle Catholics from the church during the last 20 or 30 years are incorrect.  Apparently they concede the accuracy of that research, but are not a bit concerned about it.