Study finds five-fold increase in lobbying by religious groups

Lobbying in Washington on religious issues has exploded in the last four decades, according to a new study released Monday. 

The number of groups engaged in “religion-related” advocacy in Washington has grown from less than 40 in 1970 to more than 200 today, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The study says religious lobbying is a $390 million industry that employs more than 1,000 staffers on more than 300 issues, both domestic and international. 

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The uptick in religious lobbying reflects both the growth of the lobbying business in Washington and an increasing willingness on the part of religious groups to become involved in politics.

The study highlights the careful line that the groups must walk with their lobbying activities, since many of the groups cannot “devote a substantial part of their activities to lobbying” under IRS rules.

“Religious advocacy is broadly defined in this study to encompass a wide range of efforts to shape public policy on religion-related issues,” the Pew study states. “But it also includes other efforts to affect public policy, such as activities aimed at the White House and federal agencies, litigation designed to advance policy goals, and education or mobilization of religious constituencies on particular issues.”  

Even with the rise in religious advocacy, corporation and professional association lobbying groups still dominate K Street. Other studies cited by Pew peg the number of trade associations lobbying in Washington at about 22,000 and the number of corporate offices at more than 600, compared with closer to 200 for faith groups.

Some religions are more active in lobbying field than others. Roman Catholic, Protestant and Jewish lobbyist organizations account for a combined 58 percent of the total religious advocacy in the study. Approximately a quarter of the religious groups found by Pew “advocate on religion-related issues without representing a specific religious tradition.”

“Although it may appear that, in strictly numerical terms, certain religious groups are under- or overrepresented in the Washington advocacy community, the absolute number of groups is not a reliable indicator of how well a particular religious tradition is represented in Washington,” the study notes. 

Approximately 64 percent of national religious advocacy groups lobby on “both domestic and international issues,” versus 20 percent who only lobby on issues in the states and 17 percent who lobby only on issues abroad.

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On the domestic front, the most frequently lobbied issues include “the relationship between church and state, the defense of civil rights … [and] bioethics and life issues (such as abortion, capital punishment and end-of-life issues),” among others.

“Human rights, debt relief and other economic issues, and the promotion of peace and democracy” top the list of international issues on which the groups lobby.

The study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life was conducted between 2008 and 2010 focused on national organizations. 

Director Luis Lugo and associate director of research Alan Cooperman noted that the precise number of religious lobbyists in Washington is difficult to pin down, since many who work in the capital on faith issues do so without a permanent office and professional staff in Washington.

They emphasize that the while the size of the religious lobby is trackable, its collective influence is not.

“While there is an extensive academic literature on interest groups in U.S. politics, measuring their influence in an objective, quantifiable way has proved to be difficult, if not impossible, for generations of political scientists,” Lugo and Cooperman said.