WASHINGTON – The Christian Coalition of America is raising money by encouraging members to sign up and make their calls using an anti-abortion phone company that will send its profits back to the coalition.
The 2 million-member coalition, long a force in Republican politics, recently sent out a solicitation encouraging its members to sign up for the local or long-distance services of Pro Life Communications.
"For the first time ever, with Pro Life Communications we have a local phone company that desires to honor God, uphold family values and save the 3,500 innocent babies that are killed each day in the name of `choice,"' coalition president Roberta Combs wrote in the e-mail appeal.
The Christian Coalition's arrangement with the St. Charles, Mo.-based company is the latest example of interest groups delving into commerce to raise money, especially with tough economic times putting a squeeze on donations. Other groups are selling mailing lists and endorsing credit cards for commissions.
"I think it would be safe to say there has been a decline in contributions, and I think it's due to the economy and due to September 11," Combs said. "I think everybody was affected by it. But we're very hopeful it will turn back around."
Pro Life Communications estimates it will raise about $72 a year for the coalition for each member who signs up for the long-distance service. For the local phone service package, the coalition gets a $15 signing bonus plus $2 per month for each member.
If just a quarter of the coalition members were to sign up, it would generate tens of millions of dollars a year.
The coalition, a tax-exempt group registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a social welfare organization, plans to use the money for its operating costs. Those include voter guides it puts out before elections outlining how members of Congress voted on issues in which the coalition has taken a position.
"You can use it for anything," coalition board member Drew McKissick said. "It's just like if somebody sent us $20 in the mail."
One unresolved question is whether phone proceeds could be used to run political ads close to elections. Under a campaign finance law that took effect in November, a range of groups are banned from airing ads that mention a federal candidate within one month of a primary and two months of a general election.
If those restrictions survive legal challenges, the coalition could seek an exemption from the ad restrictions as a group that does not derive donations from companies or unions. The Federal Election Commission would then scrutinize the coalition's phone company arrangement and decide whether it counted as a business contribution or not.
Dozens of other groups are also raising money through Pro Life Communications, including National Right to Life and several of its state affiliates. Company co-founder Joe Dalton said last year was a tough one in telecommunications, and it paid out only about $225,000 to the various groups.
The company, founded five years ago, also operates under the brand name Freedom Telecom, raising money for conservative groups whose agendas are far broader than opposing abortion, said Dalton, who founded the business with his wife, Jane.
"The ministry was started based on a direct calling from our Lord and savior Jesus Christ," he said. "It is unusual what we do. But that's also the reason for the wonderful response we get. Other companies have used long distance and communications for fund-raising in the past, however they only donate a portion of the profits. We donate all the profits."
The IRS initially didn't know what to do with the company and wound up treating it as a LLC, or limited liability corporation, Dalton said. It pays taxes on the donations before they go to the groups, he said.
The coalition plans to promote the company's phone services aggressively this year and started last week with an e-mail to members announcing the local service. Last year, it didn't make much of an effort and estimates it made only about $7,000 to $8,000 through December, with more than 1,000 members signed up.