Evangelicals boot Grassley over probe?

grassleyA telling story about Iowa Christian evangelicals denying a request from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, for a spot on the state's delegation to the 2008 GOP Convention has prompted interesting speculation in various news articles over the last week. Robert Novak was the first to suggest that evangelicals tossed Grassley overboard for leading a Senate Finance Committee investigation of televangelists followed by The Washington Times on Monday. Exactly why the hard-nosed Senate investigator was denied a spot seemed fishy. The reporters who initially covered the matter over the weekend, after the Novak item appeared, seem to have smelled something pretty rotten:

Political observers in Iowa saw the move against Mr. Grassley as retribution for his having tangled with evangelical pastors in his state. He initiated a Senate Finance Committee investigation of six televangelists for conspicuous personal spending.

"That had nothing to with it at all," Mr. [Steve] Scheffler [Iowa Christian Alliance President and chairman of the state's delegation] said Sunday. He said Mr. Grassley and the other members of the Iowa congressional delegation already had national convention floor privileges -- meaning they could walk the floor but not vote.

On Tuesday, Iowa Republicans were doing everything they could to be quoted stating that Grassley just wants the non-politicians to have a chance to vote at the convention. Right.

Here is the Des Moines Register on Tuesday:

Washington, D.C. -- Aides to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Ia., on Monday downplayed reports that he was dumped by Iowa Republicans as a delegate to the Republican National Convention because of his investigation of six televangelists.

Beth Pellett Levine, Grassley's press secretary, said Grassley won't be a delegate, but he will attend the convention and will have floor access as a federal elected official.

She said Grassley, as well as Iowa's two Republican congressmen, Reps. Steve King and Tom Latham, will not be delegates "in order to give additional Iowa Republicans the opportunity to participate in the floor proceedings and activities of the national party convention."

It is difficult to determine whether Novak and Times articles are well sourced because much of the information comes without citations. However, consider the news outlets. Both institutions are well sourced in conservative politics, to say the least. Also, consider what the Times was able to quote former Iowa Republican National Committee member Steve Roberts:

With a majority of nine out of 17 members on the Iowa Republican central committee, religious conservatives made Iowa Christian Alliance President Steve Scheffler chairman of Iowa's 40-member delegation in a vote immediately after their state party convention July 12.

"The Republican Party of Iowa is moving significantly to the right on social issues," the just-ousted Iowa Republican National Committee member Steve Roberts told The Washington Times. "It hurts John McCain's chances to win this state."

Other party officials said money for the party is drying up because of past mismanagement and current religious dominance, which has turned traditional Republican politics upside down.

"It's pretty well controlled now by the Christian Alliance," Mr. Roberts said. "If somebody came to me and wanted to be a delegate to the national party convention, I used to say, 'Talk to the state party chairman or to Grassley.' Now it's very simple. You go to the Christian Alliance, and they determine who is a delegate, and you have to do exactly as they say."

In recent weeks, religious activists replaced Mr. Roberts as the national Republican committeeman and also replaced the national committeewoman with pro-life advocates who also oppose gay marriage.

One thing reporters do know from this article: Roberts does not like the direction of the Iowa GOP. Does that also represent Grassley? It is hard to say for sure.

Reporters should not ignore that concurring nature of the two events despite what the politicians and staffers have to say about Grassley's exclusion from the state's slate of convention delegates. Whether there is a direct link to Grassley's investigation will probably never be known for sure.

Connected to this is the important role reporters play, along with good-government types like Grassley, in keeping an eye out for are religious-oriented institutions with large amounts of funding (particularly government funding).

See Wednesday's Indianapolis Star report on an investigation into a local faith-based nonprofit:

Russell, 49, sparked the probe by taking a report of missing money to the prosecutor's investigation unit soon after the foundation filed for bankruptcy May 30, according to his attorney, Kevin McShane. McShane said that earlier this year, Russell noticed the foundation's bank account balances were low.

McShane said the organization couldn't pay its bills; a federal bankruptcy filing lists $2.5 million in liabilities.

The foundation's unsecured debts include hundreds of thousands of dollars on credit cards, furniture rentals and auto leases. Among several vehicles owned by the foundation is a 2007 Cadillac Escalade.

Whatever one thinks of the effectiveness of faith-based charity organizations, one cannot deny that they are growing and often have tremendous amounts of funds under their control. As these charities grow and take on larger roles in communities, and in some cases receive tax dollars to support their causes, will they receive the scrutiny that seemed so painful for the churches Grassley investigated?

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