Washington Prowler

Ghosts From the Past

John Conyers revives the Christian Coalition. RNC Catholic outreach and John A. Kelly. Joe Lieberman's next big gig.

By 3.10.08

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CONYERS' COALITION
You can't blame Rep. John Conyers and the Democrats for not keeping up with Republican politics, but it appears they are more out of touch with reality than many people thought.

On Tuesday Conyers and his staff are doing a favor for their friends at MoveOn.org by holding a hearing on "Net Neutrality," a catchy word for government regulation of the Internet. Along with ending the war in Iraq, it is one of the top political issues for MoveOn and its satellite organizations.

Also set to testify: an organization called the "Christian Coalition." But it isn't the Christian Coalition that most conservatives know from the 1980s or even the early 1990s. That organization is no more, and effectively died about a decade ago with the emergence of more prominent social conservative groups like Focus on the Family.

About 18 months ago, the national umbrella organization for what was the Christian Coalition accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from backers of MoveOn.org to serve as the "conservative voice" in their campaign for regulation of the Internet.

And as a result of that scandal, a number of state "Christian Coalition" groups quit the national organization, renaming themselves and serving autonomously.

"It was embarrassing that they sold themselves for 30 pieces of silver on an issue that free marketers were fighting against," says a former national board member of the Christian Coalition. "They aren't the group the Democrats and MoveOn make them out to be. They don't speak for Republicans or anyone else."

Sources at the RNC say that the national organization has not been active in this election cycle on any level, anywhere in the country.

So why have the group testify? According to a senior House Judiciary Committee staffer, an initial plan had a member of MoveOn or its more clean-cut doppelganger, Free Press, testifying, but the Christian Coalition was suggested by MoveOn as a more politically helpful move.

CATHOLIC BACKREACH
As the White House and Republican National Committee officials begin to transition their political resources to help Sen. John McCain's run for the presidency, both are looking at how best to support McCain's campaign. As we reported last week, one focus is rebuilding Catholic outreach. According to RNC insiders, that has put the focus on current RNC outreach co-director John A. Kelly (he was appointed to the post, along with Leonard Leo, of the Federalist Society, by then-RNC director Ken Mehlman).

Since Kelly took over the job, however, the Republican Party has seen its support among Catholics nosedive, and Kelly's own checkered past is raising questions about the RNC's seriousness of rebuilding Catholic outreach.

Before becoming head of Catholic outreach, Kelly was better known as the John A. Kelly who back in the early 1980s had served as a low-level RNC aide who was removed from that job, according to the New York Times, for passing himself off as a White House employee of the then newly installed Reagan Administration.

Kelly was moved over to another job at the RNC, working on a ballot security task force for the 1981 New Jersey governor's race that saw Tom Kean defeat James Florio. That outcome was tainted by Democrat charges that the RNC-backed task force intimidated voters in inner-city areas; a lawsuit was filed against the RNC, and the national party later signed a pledge in federal court promising not to allow such intimidation of Democrat voters again.

Kelly was suspended from his duties by the RNC after questions were raised about his resume, and whether he'd actually worked as a police officer, attended or graduated from Fordham Law School, or attended Notre Dame (he attended Holy Cross Junior College in South Bend, Indiana, graduating in 1972). He later resigned his RNC post.

His biography used for public appearances today says, "In the past, Kelly has been the White House Liaison to the Republican National Committee for political and personnel issues, a political aide to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush."

"Everyone deserves a second chance, but Catholic outreach is a disaster right now," says a former senior Reagan Administration official who dealt with Kelly during his time at the RNC in the early 1980s. "Two thousand six was just a mess for us and 2008 isn't looking any better."

PAYBACK TIME
Senior Democrats in the Senate and at the Democratic National Committee are girding themselves for what they see as an inevitable appearance by Sen. Joseph Lieberman at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul this summer.

Lieberman endorsed Sen. John McCain and has campaigned with the GOP Presidential nominee several times. Lieberman caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, though he is an independent.

"If he were to appear at the Republican convention, it would essentially be over between him and the Democrats, though we pretty much did that to him when our leadership supported Ned Lamont during the primary back in 2006," says a senior Democrat leadership aide in the Senate. "It's too bad, because both Hillary and Barack could've used him in their campaigns."

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