More than five years after President Bush created the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, the former second-in-command of that office is going public with an insider’s tell-all account that portrays an office used almost exclusively to win political points with both evangelical Christians and traditionally Democratic minorities.
The office’s primary mission, providing financial support to charities that serve the poor, never got the presidential support it needed to succeed, according to the book.
Entitled “Tempting Faith,” the book is not scheduled for release until Oct. 16, but MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” has obtained a copy.
“Tempting Faith’s” author is David Kuo, who served as special assistant to the president from 2001 to 2003. A self-described conservative Christian, Kuo’s previous experience includes work for prominent conservatives including former Education Secretary and federal drug czar Bill Bennett and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Kuo, who has complained publicly in the past about the funding shortfalls, goes several steps further in his new book.
He says some of the nation’s most prominent evangelical leaders were known in the office of presidential political strategist Karl Rove as “the nuts.”
“National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as ‘ridiculous,’ ‘out of control,’ and just plain ‘goofy,’” Kuo writes.
More seriously, Kuo alleges that then-White House political affairs director Ken Mehlman knowingly participated in a scheme to use the office, and taxpayer funds, to mount ostensibly “nonpartisan” events that were, in reality, designed with the intent of mobilizing religious voters in 20 targeted races.
Nineteen out of the 20 targeted races were won by Republicans, Kuo reports. The outreach was so extensive and so powerful in motivating not just conservative evangelicals, but also traditionally Democratic minorities, that Kuo attributes Bush’s 2004 Ohio victory “at least partially … to the conferences we had launched two years before.”
With the exception of one reporter from the Washington Post, Kuo says the media were oblivious to the political nature and impact of his office’s events, in part because so much of the debate centered on issues of separation of church and state.
In fact, the Bush administration often promoted the faith-based agenda by claiming that existing government regulations were too restrictive on religious organizations seeking to serve the public.
Substantiating that claim proved difficult, Kuo says. “Finding these examples became a huge priority.… If President Bush was making the world a better place for faith-based groups, we had to show it was really a bad place to begin with. But, in fact, it wasn’t that bad at all.”
In fact, when Bush asks Kuo how much money was being spent on “compassion” social programs, Kuo claims he discovered the amount was $20 million a year less than during the Clinton Administration.
The money that was appropriated and disbursed, however, often served a political agenda, Kuo claims, with organizations friendly to the administration often winning grants.
More pointedly, Kuo quotes an unnamed member of the review panel charged with rating grant applications as saying she stopped looking at applications from “those non-Christian groups,” as did many of her colleagues.
“Tempting Faith” contains several other controversial claims about Kuo’s office, the Bush White House and even the 1994 Republican revolution in Congress.
Calls and e-mails to the White House have not been returned.
Many of those revelations and others will be the topic of discussion on Thursday night’s edition of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.”