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USCCB criticizes Pew report on $26.7M advocacy effort; Pew responds

Catholic World News - November 28, 2011

The director of media relations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has criticized a report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life that found that the USCCB devoted nearly $27 million to advocacy efforts. But the main researcher for the Pew effort defended the report.

“In trying to get a handle on advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill, Pew researchers compared apples and oranges and got lemons,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh. “The report is named ‘Lobbying for the Faithful: Religious Advocacy Groups in Washington, DC,’ and that’s where the misconceptions start. The report is less about lobbying than advocacy, and it defines advocacy as broadly as possible.”

Allen Hertzke, a University of Oklahoma political scientist who worked on the Pew report, pointed out that the study had been clearly described as a inquiry into “the broad efforts of religious advocacy organizations to help shape public policy, including educating the laity and the general public about the moral dimensions of policy concerns.” He added that while some readers might view the word “lobbying” in a negative light, the report was using a broader connotation. He explained that “when political scientists speak of ‘lobbying for the faithful’ or ‘lobbying for the environment,’ they are referring more broadly to the constitutional right of people to petition their government, not to the narrow IRS definition of lobbying.”

Hertzke added that budget figures made public by the USCCB made it more difficult to distinguish advocacy from other efforts. The USCCB budget category for “policy activities” includes a wide range of initiatives including publishing, public relations, and news service, he noted. Hertzke said that researchers “would welcome efforts by the Bishops Conference to delineate more precisely the financial support behind” the advocacy work of the USCCB.

Sister Walsh conceded that USCCB budget reports may have contributed to the inaccuracy that she detected in the Pew report. “It got its figures from a USCCB consolidated financial statement that listed all kinds of USCCB activities as ‘policy activities,’” she continued. “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.’”

Sister Walsh added:

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 …

In estimating advocacy expenses, Pew included costs for the Communications Department, including publishing, media relations, digital media, and Catholic News Service. A look at the activities of these offices suggests something beyond lobbying/advocacy.

Publishing, for example, has spent most of this year working on the revised Roman Missal …Digital media, which conveys church teaching through modern means, boasts of some terrific efforts. Its most popular site by far is the Scripture readings page … Pew says my own Office of Media Relations does advocacy. Perhaps the occasional blog seems like that, but I spend more time writing about new appointments in dioceses, religious education, vocations to priesthood and the plight of nuns whose retirement funds are woefully underfunded.

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