Some Dare Call it Conspiracy: The Illuminati of Contraception

A mist gathers around the Capitol.  Glowering clouds obscure the sun.  Dark Forces are pulling the levers of power.  The very laws of the land are being forged to enslave freemen (and freewomen) by a sinister power beyond our ken.

Somewhere, a council has gathered. Blofeld, Mrs. Danvers, Prof. James Moriarty, Cruella de Vil, Sauron, Grendel’s Mother, Dr. No, Citizen Chauvelin, and Mr. Potter’s warped and frustrated soul take their seats in the Council of the Damned.  Beneath a polished basalt wall bearing a burnished inscription reading “Now, gods, stand up for bastards!” sits the Presider himself: Samuel Whiskers, his waist-coat covered in snuff, his left paw slowly stroking his cheek as he prepares to unleash the next assault against Progress.

If a lurid image such as this fills you with political fear, then you probably also jumped up from your computer screen with the recent outcries in the Press that the resistance to the Birth Control is part of a conspiracy—against women, against health, against hope itself.

Our Liberty Destroyed by “the Force”

The following rhetorical outburst by three U.S. Senators in The Wall Street Journal will stand as a specimen piece.  I have underlined the words where the creepy “Jaws”-like music should rise up a bit in volume (or you can just click here to create a sound-track for this article):

Now, sadly, there is an aggressive and misleading campaign to deny this benefit to women. It is being waged in the name of religious liberty. But the real forces behind it are the same ones that sought to shut down the federal government last year over funding for women’s health care. They are the same forces that just tried to pressure the Susan G. Komen Foundation into cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood for breast-cancer screenings. Once again, they are trying to force their politics on women’s personal health-care decisions.

In the words of the feverish film-version of Aragorn: “Are you frightened? …. Not nearly frightened enough.”

Let’s take a serious look at one of the claims raised in the opinion piece of Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Barbara Boxer, and Patty Murray.  It is worth consideration both because the opinion was written by Senators of some years in office and divergent districts, but also because the opinion parrots the views already espoused here and there by defenders of the Birth Control Mandate.  The Senators put forward over a dozen assertions in their short expression of loyalty to the Administration and the President’s decision to create the Birth Control Mandate.  Here, I will only examine one assertion: the unnamed force behind the scenes pulling the levers of power.

I will agree with the Senators in principle.  Force there is.

The Dark Side of the Force: Catholic Clergy

As we can see, the Senators view the recent popular questioning of the Mandate, which was preceded by rather quiet negotiations, as something wicked.  “There is an aggressive and misleading campaign” afoot, one “being waged in the name of religious liberty.”  (Perhaps a change in music is in order.)

Who is this “force” against which the Senators wish Americans to be on guard?   The issue of proposed mandatory birth control coverage was minor news while the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church attempted to work with the President and the Department of Health and Human Services to create a clear and binding conscience exemption.  Cardinal-designate Dolan was led to believe that the traditional application of religious and conscience protection would adequately cover Catholic institutions and private businesses whose members wished to adhere to the precepts of their religion.  Is the Roman Catholic Church meant by this statement?  Are the various U.S. Senators or Congressmen who disagree with Senators Shaheen, Boxer, and Murray meant?  Because the Senators seem to be obsessed with rhetorical fear-mongering, it is hard to say with certitude who is meant by this sinister “force.” One can only conjecture, but who else would it be?

It is public knowledge that representatives of the Administration did not want there to be any discussion of or dissension over the Birth Control Mandate.  For example, Jay Carney, the spokesmen for the White House, has said that there was to be no debate and that the President would not yield on the matter.  This approach seems rather strident; it is hardly within the traditional bounds of a constitutional government of any kind to dictate that discussions over a law might be closed.  Perhaps, though, these are the measures deemed necessary by the Administration to resist “the force.”

As I said, however, I agree with the Senators that a force is afoot in the land.

Golden Cluster Bombs: Welcome to the World of Lobbying

The Center for Responsive Politics has an extensive study entitled “Curious Clusters of Cash: Major Lobbyist-Client Connections Among Health Care Interests.”  The study only covers the period of 2007-2009, the year leading up to the Health Care Reform Bill.  The purpose of the study and its limits are set out in the opening paragraph:

Clusters of campaign contributions from lobbyists and their clients clearly illustrate the intensity with which health-related organizations are attempting to influence Capitol Hill. Ultimately, dozens of hired health care lobbyists and their clients have in recent years created a notable—and until now, largely unseen—web of campaign contributions benefiting members of Congress. This database aims to reveal how the campaign donations of individual lobbyists enhance the political power of the organizations they’re paid to represent. This extra giving by lobbyists doesn’t necessarily indicate a planned or coordinated effort by health care firms to solidify their support among key members of Congress.

If one looks through the study (which examines all Senators and Congressmen), it is interesting to note that Senators Shaheen, Boxer, and Murray all received visits from Lobbyists representing major pharmaceutical interests in the United States and abroad.  Over the two-year period, the three Senators met with and received donations from 71 lobbyists amounting to over $125,000.  The lobbyists represented only three groups, however: Roche Holdings, Amgen Inc., and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).  All three companies are involved in the production of contraceptives or abortifacients.  PhRMA’s mission is to act as an advocacy agent for larger corporations such as Johnson and Johnson, Bayer, Pfizer and Merck—again, leaders in abortion and contraception research and production.

As the Center for Responsive Politics points out, these three companies were the number 1, number 3, and number 4 clients that lobbied on H.R. 3590 through 2009 and 2010—the years during which what is now called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was put into place. The Birth Control Mandate is a result of the way in which the Administration is enforcing the Act. These three companies in 2010 alone spent 37.3 million dollars on lobbying.

The New Know-Nothings

The fear of Catholic influence is an old and hoary tradition in American politics.  “History,” pronounced Thomas Jefferson, “furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government.”  What is curious is that this fear of Catholicism and its clergy now seems something for Catholic politicians to conjure up.  Senator Murray, for example, is a self-identified Roman Catholics.

Churches and organizations associated with churches lobby, of course.  This is pointed out in the Center for Responsive Politics’ section on “Clergy and Religion.”  If one sifts through the many pages of that study, it becomes evident that the representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Church’s associated groups (such as the Knights of Columbus), and their lobbying firms are in a tiny minority of all lobbyist and even a minority among religious lobbyists.  Between 2008-2010, all clerical and religious groups spent 4.6 million dollars combined—again, a fragment of the spending by the three companies that paid visits to the three senators (and many more) through legal lobbyists.  Of course, money trails are always laborious to follow.  Perhaps the hounds of Progress will discover other paths to the Church’s hidden troves.

Truth be told, the sources of lobbying, with respect to churches, require greater effort to examine due to the non-profit status of churches.  That status means that any visit (or contribution) made directly by a church representative is not necessarily recorded.  The popular media abound in lurid assertions that this legal non-disclosure means the churches—especially the Catholic Church—are hiding the massive amounts of wealth which they pour into lobbying.  The paranoia about the Catholic Church’s influence results in vague, but evocative, rhetoric not unlike that used by the three Senators.

Take, for example, the Center for Public Integrity’s article “Catholic Bishops’ Abortion War Chest Stays a Secret.”  The article conjures up the “full court press” mounted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in which the USCCB “tapped bishops to buttonhole members” of Congress and the Senate, and did all it could to use funds to dissuade the widening of abortion coverage within the Administration’s proposed health care legislation.  It must have been terrifying for Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to see those “toughs”, Bishop Kicanas and Cardinal Wuerl, come busting down the hall ready to rumble and grab some lapels.

The article darkly continues: “how much money USCCB spent lobbying on the health bill… remains a closely-guarded secret.”  It is worth noting that the authors cite as evidence a Los Angeles Times article which “uncovered church spending in Senate lobby disclosure records.”  Elementary, my dear Watson.  The Church has clearly mastered Political Corruption 101, Rule 7: “Hide all nefarious activities in official government documents and registers; investigative reporters will never look there.”

The Center for Responsive Politics itself published a kindred article on “God’s lobbyists: The Hidden Realm of Religious Influence.”  A similar article from Huffington Post, “The Men Behind the War on Women”, while correctly citing the IRS 501 (c)(3) rules that allow churches to speak out on issues as much and to whom they please, quavers over the snaking episcopal tentacles which are reaching into Congress: the fact that one third of the congressional membership are self-identified Catholics “surely helps the Bishops’ cause.”  That’s right, in case those Pro-life Catholic stalwarts McCaskill, Kerry, and Durbin become knock-kneed over in the Senate, the Bishops will dump money on the easily-swayed Tim Bishop or Linda Sanchez.  Once again, if that fails, there’s always twisting a lapel in the dark hallways of Dirksen or Longworth.

Indiana Jones and the House of Representatives

Yet the Huffington Post and these various centers dedicated to exposing the hidden influence of lobbyists, despite their savvy investigative journalism, have all failed to expose the depth of Catholic coffers.  I, on the other hand, have stumbled by sheer luck on secret documents which unmask the terror.  I knew my study of classical languages and archaeology was not in vain!

But first, let us make sure we understand the laws on lobbying.  Again, at great personal sacrifice and after minutes of laborious research, I found the government’s Lobbying Disclosure Act Guidance website—a veritable Spark Notes for this bit of legislation.  A brief quotation is here in order:

Although the definition of a lobbying contact does not include a communication made by a church, its integrated auxiliary, a convention or association of churches and religious orders (Section 3(8)(B)(xviii)), if a church (its integrated auxiliary, a convention or association of churches, and religious orders) hires an outside firm that conducts lobbying activity on its behalf, the outside firm must register if registration is otherwise required.

Thus, this lucid prose tells us that when a church uses a lobbying firm (which most seem to do), it must be registered like any other lobbying contact.  In other words, unless a church develops its own lobbying office, it must register just like any other would-be string-puller.

“Ah,” veteran readers of Huff and Hitch will say, “but the USCCB can pool the money of all the American dioceses together and through the dark magic of economies of scale exert the force of invisible button-holing on the innocent lambs of Congress and the Senate.” Again, through arcane research techniques, I have unearthed and deciphered a document produced by the esoteric Pew Research Center.  Loosely translated, this study was entitled by its authors, “Lobbying for the Faithful: Religious Advocacy Groups in Washington, D.C.”—clearly such obscurantism suggests that the Pew researchers too are a veritable SPECTRE assisting the “force” of corruption undermining our Republic.

Scholars at the Pew Center studied the advocacy groups of all religions and gathered material on all spending, issues, lobbying methods, etc.  In this study we find that all religious groups combined spent $390 million dollars and used approximately 1,000 individual lobbyists.  This compares to the total of $3.3 billion dollars spent on lobbying in total and the 13,000 professional lobbyists.  Let me set that our a little more clearly:

All Religious Lobbying:             $390,000,000

All Other Lobbying:                    $3,300,000,000

Note the zeros.

In total, one third of religious advocacy groups work on health care issues.  In total, only 15% of funds are spent “meeting” with representatives. Pew research indicates that the vast majority is spent on media events, publications, and letter writing.

Roman Catholic organizations amount to 19% of all religious lobbying activity in the United States.  Of Catholic organizations, the USCCB has the largest Catholic advocacy presence, spending $26 million dollars in 2009.  The USCCB is in the top 9 groups, behind the American Israel Public Affairs Committee which spent $88 million dollars, which combined with the American Jewish Committee at $13 million, outstrips the other top 7 advocacy groups put together, which are of other religions.  The USCCB is the only Roman Catholic top-tier religious advocacy group.

The $26 million spent by the USCCB includes funds dedicated to all issues: “media relations; publishing and Catholic News Service; Catholic Education; Migration and Refugee Services; pro-life activities; Human Development; Justice and Peace programs.”

Again, let us put these numbers into perspective.  At the time when the Catholic Bishops were spending $26 million lobbying on all issues of concern, the three pharmaceutical interests whose representatives came to visit Senators Shaheen, Boxer, and Murray spent $46 million dollars on Health Care lobbying.  The Health Industry taken as a whole spent approximately $500 million dollars on lobbying that year—half of that amount was provided by the pharmaceutical industry alone.  Again, a chart may be order here, especially for any civil servants reviewing this article:

Total amount spent on lobbying for all causes by the USCCB:                                    $26,000,000

Total amount spent by Roche Holdings, Amgen Inc., and PhRMA alone:            $46,000,000

Total amount spent by Health Industry on Health Care issues:                                $500,000,000

Again, do note the zeros on that last line.

While the contributions of lobbyists and industry representatives are fairly evenly disbursed among political parties, in 2008-2010 contributions by Health Industry groups favored the Democratic Party.  This year, Health Industry contributions to the Democratic President and the lead Republican presidential candidate amounts to $1.7 million for Barak Obama and just under $1 million for Mitt Romney.

The point need be labored no more.  The Health Care industry alone is outspending and out manning the Catholic Bishops as a “force.”   On all lobbying issues, the Roman Catholic Bishops spend 5% of what the Health Care Industry spends on one issue.

Make no mistake, all this is legal and part of the accepted way doing things by both political parties and advocacy groups.  Furthermore, with respect to health advocacy, most of us agree that the pharmaceutical companies involved have contributed greatly to human welfare and modern health.

The questions before us are simple: Is our national custom of lobbying a sign of a healthy political culture and a wholesome government?  Where are the real forces which pull the levers in the Capital?

The answers may prove difficult to face and conspiracy theory is so much more interesting than the hard business of governance.


William Edmund Fahey


Dr. William Edmund Fahey is President and Fellow of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire.

  • RK

    Special interests control Washington, DC. Party politics and party platforms are merely a distraction. What matters is the degree to which a candidate will succumb to the lucre offered to him or her. As the leviathan continues to grow so too does the influence of lobbyists.

    While the Bishops’ response to the Birth Control Mandate in question strikes me as a bit of grandstanding since numerous states already have similar existing statutes it, nevertheless, graphically demonstrates the power of lobbyists as you’ve outlined well. The Church is clearly outgunned here. While the Obama administration may offer some pro forma concessions the real negotiating is likely more strong armed and could include threats to the Church’s status in a “free” society. The Church is a major landowner and enjoys tax free status–would it be a big surprise if trial balloons are floated to determine how dear these and/or other benefits are to the USCCB?

    • Pnhndlgrl

      And losing the tax-exempt status of the Church in America is what the USCCB’s members and perhaps more importantly for this discussion the USCCB’s secular bureaucracy, fears most!  

    • Cmatt

       I think an argument could be made that tax-exempt status for churches is Constutionally guaranteed.  After all, the power to tax is the power to control or destroy.  Still, it would be an uphill battle and one liekly to take a long time to resolve with risky likelihood of a good outcome.

    • Micha_Elyi

      …numerous states already have similar existing statutes…

      “Similar” maybe, but they don’t include the all-must-participate, no-exceptions mandates that Obamacare does.  And that makes all the difference.

  • Thank you, Dr. Fahey, for doing the math for us. There are conspiracies and there are oligarchs who pull strings behind closed doors. The idea that the Catholic clergy sit in these seats of power is positively laughable. If they could swing that, maybe they could — by their offices of teaching, governing, and sanctifying — prevent the greater than 90% of self-identified Catholics who use contraception from doing so.

  • Marchmaine

    Good points… I think further thought and study is required on two topics:

    1. What would be the pro’s and con’s of (re-)distributing fund disbursal and regulatory authority to subsidiary entities (States, Counties, Townships).  Are we really willing to tolerate different governing principles in different states?  All signs point to: No.  Which seems a large part of the all-or-nothing political fights we are witnessing.  Another way to put it is this: at what point does the other side “winning” make the minority willing to scrap the constitutional covenant?

    Are we (finally) reaching the MacIntyrean moment where both sides realize that neither shares the same foundational moral principles?  That the language of “compromise” is meaningless absent a shared language in which to frame the compromise?

    2. What is the real implication of “Tax Free Status” with two follow-up thoughts
    a. Is the fear of losing tax-exempt status according to IRS regulations a real fear?
    i. My limited review of this topic seems to indicate fairly recent regulations by the IRS may or may not withstand a knock-down fight with the combined churches of the US; at present we have mostly voluntary compliance.
    b. What is the real impact of paying said taxes by the Church… pros and cons.

  • ichthusthree

    am i seeing wrong, or is there a typo re: combined religious lobbying discrepancy? in the paragraph its stated as $390 million, yet in the “breakout” comparison it shows only $3 million and 900 thousand — just “not[ing] the zeros”
    please clarify, thank you

  • Naresh Krishnamoorti

    Please correct the mathematical error in this post.

  • hombre111

    I remember an old bishop telling me that in Washington, “Nobody listens to us.”  Hope he was wrong.  Hope he is wrong today. 

  • peadarban

    I knew it was too good to be true.  Sigh!  Where are Cardinals Ximenez and Biggles when we need them. Those folks would never expect the Spanish Inquisition.

    Thank you, Dr. Fahey.

  • Sue

    All mockery aside, the USCCB doesn’t need so much money to lobby, as it can call upon Catholic votes that can be swung.  Take for example the braggadocio the USCCB staffers exhibited after influencing the lynchpin vote on the Stupak amendment in November 2009.  This happened to be the act that enabled Catholic politicians to vote in Obamacare with a clear conscience.  That was apparently what these staffers told the congressmembers – that they vote for STupak OR ELSE be considered not prolife (which would matter to their constituency).  Topping this is the supreme irony that the Stupak amendment, modeled on the Hyde amendment, permitted the killing of rape/incest babies, hardly prolife even on its face.
    But for these USCCB machinations, Obamacare might have stalled and died an ignoble death in the House.  The USCCB didn’t need to ply money, all it needed was to swing the Catholic Vote around.
    Furthermore, citing the Know Nothing past without mentioning the parallel poor showing of many Catholics on the slavery issue at the time.  Admittedly many Catholic immigrants were off the boat from oppression in Europe, but it is hard to understand their willingness to push blacks down the ladder behind themselves. 

    And frankly, given the times we’re in, one would have to be pretty credulous to believe the fairy tale that noone conspires against the common good.  The USCCB would do well to step out of the equation (leaving their power to the individual bishops where it belongs) before it becomes the American Patriotic Church.

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