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Group Aims to Focus Catholics on Politics

With a massive voter database at his fingertips and the blessing of the church, California Web entrepreneur Michael Galloway believes he is the Catholic answer to George Soros.

“I’ve been put in place here by the Vatican,” Galloway volunteered in a recent phone interview, as he exuberantly explained the mission of Your Catholic Voice, a budding organization singularly focused on galvanizing the Catholic vote in the 2004 elections.

With a $5 million budget amassed through private donations, the group plans to create and distribute scorecards for voters in numerous House and Senate races in many of the 19,000 Catholic parishes across the country.

This week, the group unveiled a “Faithful Citizenship Guide” targeting the upcoming Pennsylvania Senate primary. The one-page handout outlines the stances of incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter (R), Rep. Pat Toomey (R) and Joe Hoeffel (D) — each of whom is vying for Specter’s seat — on such controversial issues as the Unborn Victim of Violence Bill, human cloning and the Federal Marriage Amendment.

As part of their effort, Galloway and others involved in the group — including former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, who served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican during the Clinton administration and is now president of the new group — are spearheading what they’ve labeled a “Campaign to Build a Culture of Life.”

Their two-pronged operation aims to educate hundreds of thousands of Catholics across the country on the church’s staunch anti-abortion position — largely through the Internet — and in turn mobilize those Catholics to vote against politicians who take positions in support of abortion, so-called partial-birth abortion, cloning and experimentation on human embryos, euthanasia and capital punishment.

While Galloway and Flynn run the activist portion of Your Catholic Voice, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group, Keith Fournier, a constitutional lawyer and deacon in the Roman Catholic Church is running the Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a 501(c)(3) educational arm of the movement focused on getting the social teachings of the church out into the mainstream.

The key to holding it all together is the Web.

“We’ll use the Internet like nobody’s ever seen before,” vowed Galloway, who worked in the Hollywood movie industry for almost two decades before giving it up to run Catholic Online, a popular Internet stomping ground for followers of the faith that Galloway and his wife, Sandy, founded in 1991.

Some Catholics with different political views are skeptical about Your Catholic Voice’s plans.

“I don’t think they’re going to get very far,” said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice. “I think the notion that they’re going to get very far in 2004 on that issue, given everything else that is before the electorate, is a very flawed political strategy.”

Kissling rejected the notion that Catholics are a monolithic voting block or of one mind-set on the issue of abortion. She also expressed doubt that abortion would even be a significant factor for most voters, in light of other key issues such as health care, the economy, jobs and education.

“The exit polls that have been consistently taken over the years show that the abortion issue is down at number 15” in terms of importance of issues to voters, Kissling said, adding that there is “no evidence that you’re going to win the Catholic vote on the basis of abortion.”

“The evidence would be to the contrary,” she argued. “The notion that you can organize oodles of Catholics to vote against pro-choice candidates or for anti-abortion candidates, is flawed from its inception … First of all, all Catholics are not anti-choice.”

But San Francisco resident Dolores Meehan, who recently joined Your Catholic Voice after hearing Flynn speak, said that organization is filling a noticeable void within the Catholic community and warns that a “Catholic counter-cultural revolution has begun.”

“I always wanted something like [Your Catholic Voice] because as a Catholic, you have to choose between the lesser evils at the polls when we vote — the Republicans and Democrats,” said Meehan, who helped organize a peaceful protest against gay marriage in downtown San Francisco last month under the group’s auspices.

“The fact that the Democratic candidates promote completely unrestricted everything on abortion is a no-brainer — I vote Republican — but I want to change the landscape, I want Republicans to pay more attention to some of the social issues that are more consistent with Catholic [teachings],” explained Meehan, who is still reeling from the 1,500-person turnout at the rally she helped organize.

Flynn is also amazed by the outpouring of interest from young Catholics when he speaks about YCV in cities and college campuses around the country.

“I don’t know how far it’s going to go or how big it’s going to get. It’s just not something I’ve seen before,” Flynn remarked.

“I’m used to backroom politicians making deals, cutting deals, and that’s how things get done, but these young people have given up on them and given up on that process. That process is morally bankrupt. It’s a process that deals with special interests and money and they don’t see their future connected to the existing political process.”

Despite what appear to be the GOP leanings of many of the leaders in the group — advisory board members include GOP pollster John McLaughlin, Concerned Women for America Vice President Michael Schwartz, Free Congress Foundation CEO Paul Weyrich, Americans United for Life General Counsel Nikolas Nikas — those in charge emphasize that their organization is not in the business of partisan politics.

An unabashed Republican, Galloway nonetheless stated that the organization is neither liberal nor conservative, Republican nor Democratic, but rather the first grassroots organization seeking to give Catholics a unified voice in the political arena. But he has put the parties on notice.

“I have stressed all the way up to Karl Rove, ‘We’re here. We’re Catholics. We’ve got the largest voter database in the country,’” Galloway said.

Given the issues that Your Catholic Voice is championing, one can safely surmise that it is Republicans who would generally gain from their efforts.

Case in point: A recent voter’s guide that the Massachusetts branch of Your Catholic Voice prepared for the March 2, 2004, Massachusetts special Senate election — and distributed in 22 parishes — compared Democrat Angus McQuilken to Republican candidate Scott Brown.

Three of five questions focused on the abortion issue, asking if the candidate would support current law requiring parental consent for a minor’s abortion, would require full disclosure of health risks and consequences for women considering abortions and would support a ban on partial-birth abortion.

Two other questions on the pamphlet focused on gay marriage and the right of parents to direct sex education for children.

While Brown was listed as answering “yes” to each of the abortion-related questions, McQuilken — who did not return the group’s questionnaire — was listed as “no” or it was stated that he had been “endorsed by MassChoice NARAL which opposes” both informed consent for women considering abortions and parental consent for a minor’s abortion.

McQuilken lost to Brown by fewer than 350 votes, and Your Catholic Voice representatives believe their voter guides made the difference.

Still, critics wonder whether Your Catholic Voice can truly succeed where similar efforts in the past have failed.

Catholic Campaign for America, an effort begun in 1992 to energize those in the church to become more active in politics based on the traditions of the church, never seemed to catch fire, and the Catholic Alliance, a Catholic offshoot of the Christian Coalition that was once run by Fournier and later by Flynn, also failed to gain a foothold. Even the once mighty Christian Coalition itself has fallen on hard times.

Galloway insists that his group is nothing like either of its predecessors and said Catholics are finally getting smart about organizing.

“We’re now studying this very carefully. We’re studying the tactics and strategies of the other side. I’m not in this to come in second place. I’m not in this to lose anymore,” says Galloway, who vows to go “head to head with George Soros” in the 2004 elections.

Most of all, Galloway believes that his powerful database and Internet technology and new ways of talking to Catholic voters will make all the difference.

“There are 65 million Catholics — 25 percent plus of the electorate. We’ve got to make Catholics understand what it means to be faithful. Most Catholics don’t realize it is a moral obligation to vote. We have the lowest voter turnout historically that we’ve ever had,” Galloway says. “This is what we’re here to do. We are databasing. We will be databasing.”

Galloway said he realized the potential for when his Internet consulting company, the Bakersfield, Calif.-based Horizon 3 Group, developed something called IntelElect Campaign Manager for the Republican National Committee. The Web-based software — which Galloway said has been purchased by both Republicans and Democrats — allows campaigns, parties or groups to identify voters and track their interests.

Galloway told a publication called San Francisco Faith that at about the same time he was working on the database project for the RNC, “some cardinals at the Vatican asked me to look into why issue organizations come and go” and he discovered that most groups suffered from poor business models.

The giant database generated by Catholic Online provides the organization with an extensive infrastructure and network to get the ball rolling.

The group is planning to launch its own “Catholic Meetups” in the near future and is urging members to print and distribute its materials on everything from same-sex marriage and abortion to immigration policy at their parishes.

“We will make educational materials available, assist in effective voter education, registration, activation and mobilization, and make available our 165 million-name database of ‘Registered Voters’ in order to assist our members and their allies in anticipation of the 2004 elections,” one document on the group’s Web site explains.

But Galloway stresses that Your Catholic Voice will be delivering a positive message to rally voters — “cultivate your faith” and “activate your voice.”

“‘Anti’ does not work. I don’t want to see another picture of an aborted baby,” Galloway says. “It doesn’t work.”

He’s also not planning to take any prisoners.

“I don’t want to come in second place. I’m not going to be like Ralph Reed’s organization or Roberta Combs,” he remarks, referencing to a past and current head of the Christian Coalition.

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