Copyright (c) 1996, Roanoke Times

DATE: Wednesday, October 23, 1996            TAG: 9610230067
SOURCE: Associated Press


Christian conservatives are ready to mobilize 100,000 volunteers in a muscular drive to re-elect a Republican Congress - proof, a leader said, that they have ``crossed the threshold of legitimacy'' and become a permanent force in American politics.

Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, said the group will mount the greatest political effort in its history over the next two weeks, distributing 45million voter guides in 120,000 churches and contacting 3 million to 5 million voters in person or by telephone.

The coalition is the offspring of religious broadcaster Pat Robertson's 1988 presidential campaign.

Some Democrats have complained that the voter guides distort their positions on such issues as abortion, school prayer and homosexuality.

Also, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which describes itself as an independent ``watchdog'' group, said it was sending a memorandum prepared by lawyers warning that church officials could jeopardize their institutions' tax-exempt status by distributing the voter guides.

Reed said the voter guides will attempt to make clear that ``Bob Dole favors a constitutional amendment protecting innocent human life and that Bill Clinton does not.

``We're going to remind them that Bob Dole would have signed the partial-birth abortion ban and that Bill Clinton vetoed it.''

He was referring to a bill outlawing the late-term abortion procedure. Clinton said he opposed it because it omitted an exception allowing the procedure to protect the health of the mother.

Reed, in an address Tuesday to the National Press Club, brushed aside a lawsuit filed by the Federal Election Commission that alleges the coalition made illegal corporate contributions to Republican candidates through its guides, get-out-the-vote efforts and other activities. He said the Supreme Court has already dismissed the issues raised by the case.

Postal authorities also are investigating the group's mailing practices.

``I don't think people of faith distributing nonpartisan voter guides prior to an election falls within the category of what's wrong with our political life,'' Reed said.

At the same time, Reed criticized Vice President Al Gore for attending a fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple in California in April and announced the coalition has asked the FEC to investigate.

Reed said the Democrats who complained about the voter guides had turned ``a Buddhist temple of worship into a den of thieves.''

Democrats did not at first pay to use the temple - the largest Buddhist holy place outside of Asia - raising questions whether the temple had made an in-kind political donation that would jeopardize its tax-exempt status. After reports of the event appeared in newspapers, the DNC quickly sent the temple a $15,000 check to cover its cost.

Gore, on National Public Radio Monday night, said the Democrats erred in arranging the fund-raiser. He said he thought it was a ``community outreach event'' when he agreed to participate. The event raised $140,000, which the DNC has said it doesn't plan to return.

``Obviously, somebody didn't handle it right,'' Gore said.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Buddhist monks and nuns who had taken vows of poverty somehow made $5,000 contributions apiece. One nun told the newspaper that money was supplied by an associate of an Indonesian family that has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Clinton's campaign.

A company headed by Pat Robertson has been a partner in a Chinese cable TV venture with the Indonesian family's conglomerate. International Family Entertainment Inc., whose chairman is Robertson, entered the venture late last year with Indonesia's Lippo conglomerate and MUI Group, a Malaysian real estate giant.

Spokesmen for Robertson were traveling Tuesday afternoon and were not available for comment, said Libby Krimsier, a coalition employee in the Chesapeake, Va., office.

In his speech, Reed said religious conservatives will play ``a central role in re-electing the first Republican Congress in 60 years.'' He did not predict the election of GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole, but he was scornful of Republicans who write off Dole's chances.

``It is true that a number of our members are not happy that Mr. Dole hasn't come out more strongly on our issues,'' Reed said after his speech. ``But there's too much at risk this election for the faith community to simply stay at home'' Nov. 5, referring to legislative races.

Religious conservatives, he said, ``have crossed the threshold of legitimacy. They have gained a place at the table that they have sought for so many years. Whether one means them well or ill, they are indisputably going to be a permanent fixture on the American political landscape, probably for the rest of our lives.''

Staff writer Warren Fiske and Hearst Newspapers contributed to this story.

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