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Remember Ralph Reed? He’s back — and helping Minnesota marriage amendment supporters

Reed’s local affiliate, the Minnesota Faith & Freedom Coalition, has worked to teach evangelical pastors how to talk about political issues from the pulpit.

Ralph Reed’s local affiliate, the Minnesota Faith & Freedom Coalition, has worked to teach evangelical pastors how to talk about political issues from the pulpit.
REUTERS/Stephen Jaffe

Remember Ralph Reed, the driving force behind the Christian Coalition? He’s back, and he’s working cleverly and quietly on the campaign to insert an amendment into the Minnesota Constitution banning same-sex marriage.

He was invited to a strategy session held here exactly one year ago, in fact, to talk about getting conservative evangelicals to the polls to vote for the amendment. Also invited were Republican U.S. Reps. Michele Bachmann, John Kline, Chip Cravaack and Erik Paulsen, state Sen. Warren Limmer and erstwhile gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who in January assumed the reins of the Reed’s local affiliate, the Minnesota Faith & Freedom Coalition.

Among other activities, the group has worked to teach evangelical pastors how to talk about political issues from the pulpit, about the erosion of “traditional marriage” and how to talk about the marriage ban in terms that could broaden its appeal. Its ultimate aim appears to be to get enough voters to the polls to pass the amendment, currently in a dead heat in surveys.

Just to catch you up: After helping George W. Bush win re-election in 2004 by turning out massive numbers of white evangelicals, Reed was ushered off the far-right stage by the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal. Reed wasn’t charged, but many Christian conservatives were offended by his firm’s association with Abramoff’s Indian gaming clients.

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The New York Times recently carried a story detailing Reed’s political resurrection as the head of a nonprofit called the Faith & Freedom Coalition, which he founded three years ago. The idea: To use the same voter micro-targeting strategies that gave Barack Obama’s campaign a crucial edge in 2008 to deliver the White House to Mitt Romney, recall an “activist” Iowa Supreme Court justice and pass the Minnesota amendment.  

How does micro-targeting work? A campaign or get-out-the-vote effort cross-hatches a variety of data sets to come up with lists of potential voters, as well as demographic and psychographic information that suggests what arguments are likely to sway them.

As reported by the Times:

“Three years ago, Mr. Reed formed the Faith and Freedom Coalition and began assembling what he calls the largest-ever database of reliably conservative religious voters. In the coming weeks, he says, each of those 17.1 million registered voters in 15 key states will receive three phone calls and at least three pieces of mail. Seven million of them will get e-mail and text messages. Two million will be visited by one of more than 5,000 volunteers. Over 25 million voter guides will be distributed in 117,000 churches….

“It acquired mega-church membership lists. It mined public records for holders of hunting or boating licenses, and warranty surveys for people who answered yes to the question ‘Do you read the Bible?’ It determined who had downloaded conservative-themed books, like ‘Going Rogue’ by Sarah Palin, onto their e-readers, and whether those people also drove pickup trucks. It drilled down further, looking for married voters with children, preferably owners of homes worth more than $100,000.”

Neither side in the hard-fought campaigns for and against the marriage ban is giving away much in terms of details about its targeting strategies. In part because fewer of its activities are taking place in social media, more is known about Minnesotans United, the vote-no coalition.

It, too, is targeting likely swing voters, albeit by using lists maintained by its coalition members, including churches, advocacy groups, unions and others. And both it and its vote-yes counterpart, Minnesota for Marriage, are spending on polling, message-testing and demographically targeted advertising in an effort to move the very narrow band of voters thought still to be “moveable.”

Outside of conservative evangelical circles, Minnesota Faith & Freedom has flown virtually under the radar.

In addition to Emmer, the group’s Minnesota board members include evangelical radio host Brad Brandon, Dorothy Penate, Mary Ramirez and three members of the family that owns Bobby and Steve’s Auto World, Steve, Bobby and Melissa Williams. Advisors include Limmer and University of St. Thomas Law School Professor Teresa Collett, who has been active in pro-life efforts and other religious, conservative issues nationwide.

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Local spokesman Brandon, who is the host of the Word of Truth Radio Show, could not be reached in time for comment. We’ll update as soon as we hear from him. Meanwhile, here is what public records, the group’s site and Facebook page reveal:

The coalition is a 501 c (3) nonprofit “committed to educating, equipping, and mobilizing people of faith and like-minded individuals to be effective” in influencing public policy and legislation. It was formed in 2011, which makes it too new for its nonprofit 990 financial disclosures to the IRS to be available in public databases.

The group does solicit donations but is not listed in the Minnesota attorney general’s database of charities registered to raise funds here. As a nonprofit, it is not required to register with the state Board of Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure as either a political fund or political organization.

In addition to the aforementioned 2011 strategy session, it held a “briefing and strategy” event for pastors in Eagan in January. In addition to a presentation by Collett, attendees heard from Jordan Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington D.C., who talked about educating parishioners about voting without violating the law.

Bachmann also addressed the gathering, suggesting that voters “who are not interested in talking about the morality” might respond to the marriage amendment framed as a voter-rights issue — precisely the tack taken by the vote-yes coalition’s first TV spots, which began airing Monday.