Following the Money

Records recently filed with the Internal Revenue Service show that James Leininger, a San Antonio businessman and sugar daddy for the religious right in Texas, continued through at least 2007 to fund efforts to recruit pastors into the Republican political machine in this state and across the country.

In 2005 the Texas Restoration Project spent nearly $1.3 million to host six so-called “Pastors’ Policy Briefings” around the state. Hundreds of pastors and their spouses attended the confabs free of charge to hear speechifying and praise for (and from) Republican Gov. Rick Perry. (You can read more about the Texas Restoration Project in a Texas Freedom Network Education Fund report here.) Speakers encouraged pastors to get their congregants to the polls to vote for candidates who support “Judeo-Christian values” — values that Gov. Perry and fellow GOP candidates made clear they support (and, they suggested, Democrats don’t).

The Texas Freedom Network later discovered that Leininger, Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, East Texas chicken tycoon Bo Pilgrim and beer and wine distributor Don O’Neal of Colleyville, Tex., had funneled money through a nonprofit entity called the Niemoller Foundation to pay for the Texas Restoration Project events. All were major financial backers of Gov. Perry’s campaigns and those of other GOP candidates. TFN filed a complaint with the IRS in January 2008, but whether or not the IRS ever launched an investigation is unknown.

As it turns out, the executive director of the Texas Restoration Project — a man named David Lane — also helped organize similar pastor recruitment efforts elsewhere. We began to see “Renewal” and “Restoration” projects crop up in Colorado, Florida, Iowa and other states that were expected to become major battlegrounds in the 2008 presidential election.

Documents filed by Niemoller with the IRS show that Leininger and the far-right American Family Association were continuing to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Niemoller Foundation in 2006 and 2007, when these national pastor recruitment efforts were  moving into high gear. In 2006 more than $200,000 of the Niemoller money went to pay the salary of Lane for “fundraising.” Niemoller also spent nearly $400,000 on “Pastors’ Policy Briefings” in Florida (Jan. 15-16, 2006) and Colorado (June 5-6 and again Oct. 2-4 of that year). Niemoller reported $615,000 in contributions that year, much of it from Leininger and the AFA (which were the only two names listed as “substantial contributors” on the foundation’s IRS Form 990).

IRS documents show that Niemoller raised another nearly $240,000 in 2007, nearly all of it from Leininger. That money helped cover $56,000 for Lane’s salary and nearly $200,000 to pay for an Austin “Pastors’ Policy Briefing” to celebrate Gov. Perry’s reinauguration in January of that year.

The Niemoller Foundation’s Form 990 detailing income and expenditures for 2008 isn’t due to the IRS until November of this year. So it will be a while before we learn how much money was funneled from Texas to national efforts to recruit pastors for partisan politicking during the presidential election year itself. Those efforts were likely substantial, including another “briefing” last October in Austin.