David Kuo thought he'd found his dream job; deputy director in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives — helping charities and religious groups get access to government money. Kuo, an evangelical Christian, says he was deeply moved by President Bush's commitment to faith-based programs during the 2000 campaign.
"He campaigned on this fact that he was going to be a different kind of Republican who would inject serious new funds to care for the poor," says Kuo.
The president's idea was that government didn't have all the answers, that often religious groups were the most qualified to help those in need. And they should be given more resources.
"I will call upon the faith-based ministries that change hearts and therefore change America for the better," Bush said during his first presidential campaign on March 9, 2000.
Bush called it compassionate conservatism. And it appealed to not just conservatives but to moderate voters. The president promised $8 billion a year in tax incentives. It would have amounted to a huge increase in funds for all charities. But in negotiating the president's tax cut plan, the White House dropped the $8 billion in favor of other tax cuts.
Kuo believes the White House, having reaped political benefit, didn't fight hard enough for the money.
"The White House has experienced more political upside from compassionate conservatism than it has delivered in terms of funds and dollars," he says.
The White House says it had no choice. Some Democrats and civil liberties groups are against funding charities that have a religious affiliation. Opponents argue it violates the separation of church and state and leads to religious discrimination. They have put up a tough fight.
"There was a lot of political jockeying," says Jim Towey, who now heads the faith-based office. "I don't think they were ever going to let President Bush have a signing ceremony on the faith-based legislation."
Towey publicly defends the White House effort, saying there has been about half a billion dollars in new money for charities. But privately even Towey complained about the lack of enthusiasm for faith-based programs. In an internal White House e-mail dated Oct. 10, 2003, about a battle with Congress, Towey wrote, "The message has not been sent that this bill is a must-have of the president."
As for Kuo, he says he hopes speaking out will spur the White House to push harder to make the president's faith-based initiative more about getting help to those in need.
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