One should always worry when dollar signs replace the letter “S” in discussions related to campaign finance and theology. For example, the title of Auburn Theological Seminary’s inaugural entry in its Applied Theology Series, “Lo$ing Faith in Our Democracy,” leaves little doubt there’s an unhidden agenda lurking within.
Auburn Theological is a seminary for continuing education for clergy. It doesn’t grant degrees, but seems to fancy itself a think tank of sorts. If the “scare dollar sign” in its Applied Theology title doesn’t give it away, perhaps the funding of the project will. According to the seminary’s website, the study “was funded in large part” by the Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF), which is “rooted in the Jewish tradition and committed to democratic values and social justice.”
Along with As You Sow and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, NCF is at the forefront of religious shareholder activists pushing progressive agendas, including remedying the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. NCF noted in its 2010 document, “Changing Corporate Behavior through Shareholder Activism:”
Although campaign finance reforms have sought to limit undue corporate influence over the political process, companies continue to play a significant role in national, state and local-level politics. The amount of money corporations spend to influence the political process now looks set to grow as a result of the recent Supreme Court decision on the Citizens United case.
Over the last few years, the link between corporate political contributions, shareholder value, and NCF’s programmatic themes has become increasingly apparent. The Center for Political Accountability, which NCF has funded through its Ecological Innovation and Collaborative Initiatives programs, has expanded the focus of its work to include payments made to 527s and trade associations. As the political influence of 527s and trade associations has grown, it has become increasingly clear that many corporations take public postures on issues like climate change or health reform that are at odds with the stances aggressively pursued by the trade associations of which they are dues-paying members. A company might, on the one hand, appear to be promoting an employer mandate for the provision of health insurance while simultaneously funding the Chamber of Commerce’s campaign against such a mandate through the portion of its membership dues used to fund the Chamber’s lobbying budget. Many of the issues where this type of disconnect is evidenced most clearly – climate change, environmental issues, healthcare reform – happen to be a focus of one or more of NCF’s program areas.
The Center for Political Accountability (CPA) referenced in the second sentence of the above block quote is another smoking gun of progressive activism. As pointed out last month, CPA submits proxy resolutions on behalf of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, As You Sow and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility. These resolutions, not coincidentally, are supported by the organized labor outfits as AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union. In other words, shutting down corporate speech to the benefit of progressively oriented unions is the CPA game plan.
All of this, of course, is not to suggest there aren’t nuggets of solid theological thought contained in the Auburn essays. But that’$ a topic for another day.