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The Risk of Lobbying

The Risk of Lobbying

Where Religion and Politics Meet 

By Emmett Pennington-Guthrie 

In 2021, 3.73 billion dollars were spent in the United States by various corporations and organizations on lobbying Congress and various federal agencies. [1] 

Lobbying in the United States is defined as “influencing or attempting to influence legislative action or nonaction through oral or written communication or an attempt to obtain the goodwill of a member or employee of the Legislature,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. [2] 

The 3.73 billion spent in 2021 includes money spent on issues such as abortion, sending military aid to Israel, and other issues that are important to different religious groups. 

For example, over four million dollars were spent in 2021 on pro-Israel lobbying, in large part from Christian and Jewish groups. [3] 

With that said, this type of lobbying on behalf of religious organizations isn’t necessarily popular with most people. 

A recent poll on The Collegian Instagram page found that 84% of respondents felt that churches shouldn’t be allowed to donate money to political campaigns, another form of generating political influence through monetary means. 

Keep in mind that for the purposes of this article, references to “the church” or “churches” are used in a broad sense meaning religious organizations as a whole. 

As Aurora Coleman, freshman biology and pre-medicine major put it, she feels that the church has no business with the government. 

“[The church is] able to practice their religion, so they should do so within their church, not outside of it.” [4] 

Heubach Chapel. The Seventh-Day Adventist church is not a major lobbyist, which may be seen as a good thing. Photo by Emmett Pennington-Guthrie.

Officially, there are limits on how much religious organizations can do in terms of lobbying. 

The IRS states that religious organizations can lobby for or against legislation so long as the lobbying doesn’t form a “substantial part” of their activities. [5] 

“Substantial” isn’t something clearly defined, however, the IRS considers a church to be lobbying too much if they are spending 5% or more of their resources (not only considering money, but also organizational time and effort). [6] 

If the IRS finds a religious organization to be lobbying substantially the organization can lose its tax-exempt status, a hard blow for major groups. [7] 

Still, the money spent on lobbying is money that could be spent on more directly helping the public, as Coleman expressed. 

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Rather than trying to influence the government’s actions, Coleman suggested that religious groups should stay away from politics and focus instead on fulfilling their religious aims. [8] 

Of course, religion still has an influence on policymaking, at least indirectly, even without lobbying on behalf of churches. 

88% of U.S. representatives in Congress are Christian, an overrepresentation of the 70% of Americans who identify as such. [9] 

Simultaneously, 52% of Americans state that it is either somewhat or very important for a president to have strong religious beliefs. [10] 

These points in conjunction indicate that even without churches or religious groups to influence policymakers directly, it is likely that religious individuals will be elected, and certain values may be strongly represented in government. 

49% of Americans report a belief that the Bible should influence lawmaking either “some” or “a great deal.” [11] 

References 

  1. Lobbying data summary. (n.d.). Open Secrets. https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying 
  1. How states define lobbying and lobbyist. (n.d.). NCSL. https://www.ncsl.org/research/ethics/50-state-chart-lobby-definitions.aspx 
  1. Industry profile: Abortion policy/anti-abortion. (n.d.). Open Secrets. https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/industries/summary?cycle=2021&id=Q14 
  1. Interview with Aurora Coleman, 4/14/22. 
  1. Fishman, S. (n.d.). How much lobbying can a nonprofit do? NOLO. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/how-much-lobbying-can-nonprofit-do.html 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Interview with Aurora Coleman, 4/14/22. 
  1. Fahmy, D. (2020, July 16). 8 facts about religion and government in the United States. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/07/16/8-facts-about-religion-and-government-in-the-united-states/ 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. PRRI Staff. (2021, July 8). The 2020 census of American religion. PRRI. https://www.prri.org/research/2020-census-of-american-religion/ 
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