The Money Changers
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Wed May 24, 2006 at 12:08:38 AM EST
Last week, Mainstream Baptist wondered What's the Matter with Texas? and referenced the Texas Freedom Network's incisive new report: "The Anatomy of Power: Texas and the Religious Right in 2006."  

No one should be surprised to hear that there's a whole lot the matter with Texas, or that -- as is the case even in religion-driven politics - the root of our state's particular evil can be traced to the love of money.  Here in Texas, rich men who hand money out by the bucketload are using their wealth to buy a state government that looks like their vision of the promised land.

The TFN report devotes an entire section to "God's Sugar Daddy," Dr. James Leininger.

The San Antonio physician made a fortune selling specialty hospital beds. His business empire has included a variety of other companies, including Promised Land Dairy (which places a Bible verse on each milk container), the direct mail company Focus Direct and the political consulting firm of Winning Strategies. Yet among Dr. Leininger's most significant investments have been in the careers of politicians who back his public policy agenda, including tort reform, private school vouchers, pushing religious conservative principles in public schools, and opposition to abortion and gay rights.

Leininger holds a seat on the Board of Trustees of Patrick Henry College, where "[e]ach Trustee, officer, faculty member and student of the College, as well as such other employees and agents of the College as may be specified by resolution of the Board of Trustees, shall fully and enthusiastically subscribe to the following Statement of Faith."

A. There is one God, eternally existent in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

B. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.

C. Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, is God come in the flesh.

D. The Bible in its entirety (all 66 books of the Old and New Testaments) is the inspired word of God, inerrant in its original autographs, and the only infallible and sufficient authority for faith and Christian living.

E. Man is by nature sinful and is inherently in need of salvation, which is exclusively found by faith alone in Jesus Christ and His shed blood.

F. Christ's death provides substitutionary atonement for our sins.

G. Personal salvation comes to mankind by grace through faith.

H. Jesus Christ literally rose bodily from the dead.

I. Jesus Christ literally will come to earth again in the Second Advent.

J. Satan exists as a personal, malevolent being who acts as tempter and accuser, for whom Hell, the place of eternal punishment, was prepared, where all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity.

When Leininger makes that statement of faith, he puts his money where his mouth is, even though he grew up in a church that warns its faithful: "We condemn those who ... aiming to govern the State by the Word of God, seek to turn the State into a Church."  But maybe that's why he's not a Lutheran anymore.

Leininger is best known for financing efforts to defund public schools with private school vouchers and  push through so-called "tort reform" measures to protect corporations such as his from legal damages, but as far back as 1999, Leininger already had written checks for $2.1 million to anti-choice, anti-gay rights and conservative "family values" non-profits and PACS such as the American Family Association, the Christian Pro-Life Foundation, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the Heidi Group, the Institute in Basic Life Principles, and the Republican National Coalition for Life PAC.

State Rep.Frank Corte, a perennial proponent of religious school vouchers and Leininger's longtime lap dog, also shares Leininger's overweening interest in controlling women's bodies. Corte was the author of Texas HB15, a draconian 2003 antiabortion law that has drastically decreased women's access to abortion care in Texas.

And why do even moderate Republicans vote "yes" on bills like these, creating a web of statutes by now so confused that a doctor in Texas can be subject to the death penalty for providing an abortion to a minor without written parental consent?  Peggy Romberg of the Women's Health and Family Planning Association was present when many lawmakers walked out of the legislative chamber, refusing to vote on yet another anti-choice bill: "I even had Republicans say to me, `I'd love to walk this one, but they'd kill me,'" she said. "Everyone knows what this is really about. They're just afraid to say it publicly."

If you serve in an elected office in Texas, you don't want to get in Jim Leininger's way.

For the 1994 school board elections, at the behest of the state Republican Party, [Leininger's friend, Bob] Offutt went out to recruit fellow travelers. He found three. One was Donna Ballard, a Pentecostal minister's wife from the Houston suburbs. Through personal funds and PAC contributions ... Leininger donated some $45,000 -- an enormous amount of money as school board campaigns go -- to Ballard and the two other Christian-right candidates. And Focus Direct, a Leininger company in San Antonio that does slick, direct mail work for companies and politicians, produced and mass-mailed a leaflet featuring a photo of a black man and a white man kissing and accusing Ballard's opponent Mary Knott Perkins of wanting to teach Texas children about oral and anal sex. Perkins, a grandmother many times over who is by no means a political radical, lost the election to Ballard. The other two Christian conservatives also won. The victories gave the elected state school board its first-ever Republican majority.

If Leininger spends $45,000 on a school board election, how much will he spend to buy the results he wants in other races? Via the Texas Ethics Commission, the Texas Freedom Network report provides some sobering numbers.

From 1997 to March 2006, the Leiningers contributed or loaned nearly $10 million to candidates for state offices and to political action committees active at the state level. During the same period, the Leiningers contributed more than $1 million to campaigns and political committees at the federal level and in other states. Those vast sums of money went almost exclusively to Republicans and far-right political committees. Indeed, Dr. Leininger has been called the "sugar daddy of the religious right" in Texas, and the name clearly fits.

If Leininger is the religious right's sugar daddy, he has some help paying child support. Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim is best known as the founder of Pilgrim's Pride, and is recognized on sight by many Americans from his folksy appearances on billboards and television, dressed in a pilgrim's hat and often with a pet chicken under his arm. And that's one lucky chicken, because Pilgrim's Pride facilities in Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Puerto Rico and Mexico process about 30 million of her sisters every week, for a record $5.7 billion in net sales for fiscal year 2005.  

Pilgrim is convinced he is on a mission from God.

That mission includes chickens. Lots and lots of chickens. Asked about that mission, Pilgrim cites the first book of Genesis, the section about God creating the fowl of the air. "He created these things to sustain man. I'm in a business that I'm proud to be part of the environment that the Lord created to support man.

"I think the Lord is using Pilgrim's Pride as an example of a Christian businessman," he said. "I believe that from the bottom of my heart. I know the Lord does that with me. He has tried me with fire and he has blessed me."

Bo Pilgrim and his family members have bestowed tens of thousands in blessings upon hard right Republicans in every election cycle -- in addition to another $450,000 for the national Republican committee in 2002 alone -- and that ain't chickenfeed, either.

Aside from his long history as a polluter of the environment second to none - in 1995 Pilgrim's Pride paid $325,000 in fines for illegal wastewater discharges, and in 2002 caused a deadly listeria outbreak that killed eight people and led to the largest meat recall in American history -- Pilgrim immortalized himself in Texas political folklore for what I like to think of as the Great Chicken Feeding of 1989.

Raising chickens made Bo Pilgrim famous. Handing out $10,000 checks inside the Texas Capitol made him notorious. In 1989, during consideration of a bill to reform the state's workers compensation laws, Pilgrim walked onto the floor of the Senate, where a committee meeting was concluding, and handed out $10,000 checks to key legislators involved in the workers comp debate. Several legislators took the checks. When the story was reported in the news media, senators returned the checks to Pilgrim. (One senator didn't exactly return the check. He had already cashed it, so he had to write a new check to Pilgrim.)

In addition to furthering his vision of a "Christian" society, his continuing political largesse to those who have no trouble voting Bo Pilgrim's conscience instead of their own has enabled Pilgrim to continue his blatant defiance of federal law as a major employer of undocumented workers. From my vantage point inside a clinic that provides abortion care, I didn't need a watchdog site to inform me of Pilgrim's hiring practices, because his company employs undocumented Spanish-speaking women in such huge numbers that our clinic has seen many of them over the years, both from Dallas and from Pilgrim's Pride headquarters in Pittsburg, Texas. They receive low pay, of course, with no health insurance and little access to family planning services.

When women working in such conditions experience unplanned pregnancies, they often feel compelled to seek abortions as a matter of economic survival.  Despite the fervid insistence by the religious right that the public accept the dubious concept of "Post-Abortion Syndrome" as an article of faith, the biggest worry on these women's minds is that our doctors advise them not to spend prolonged hours on their feet for the next several days. Even though we provide Pilgrim's employees with documentation of their qualification for temporary disability under the Family Medical Leave Act, they fear that they'll lose their jobs unless they return immediately to spending ten hours a day on the processing line, elbow deep in chicken innards.

But the millions pumped into Texas politics by Leininger and Pilgrim pale in comparison to the ungodly amounts of money proceeding from the seemingly bottomless pockets of homebuilder Bob Perry, whose political activities at the national level were revealed in 2004 by his financing of the shady Swift Boat Veterans for Truth assault on John Kerry.

In the past four years, Perry has made a total of $5.2 million in contributions to various Texan Republican efforts. ... That includes contributions to everything from Bush's runs for president to Rick Perry's campaign for governor to the Tom DeLay-inspired Texans for a Republican Majority PAC that's now the focus of a Travis County grand jury investigation into campaign finance violations. ... Perry wrote checks to state Republican campaigns totaling an astounding $4 million in 2002 alone.

And what kind of "Christian" government are these seemingly endless millions buying in Texas?

From Sen. Bob Deuell - a physician who coasted into office on $250,000 of Bob Perry's money, and was instrumental in stripping thousands of low-income women of access to family planning and basic health services this year - his opinion on allowing rape survivors an exemption from the more rigid strictures of our state's antiabortion law.

"There are many hundreds, if not thousands of women who have been raped and carried that pregnancy, and had the baby and have been very happy that they've done that," he said. ". . . I still feel very strongly that even as tragic as some of those circumstances are, they have been a blessing to many, many people."

Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose have observed that "These disciplined political Christian soldiers have spent the last ten years taking over the the machinery of the Republican Party, precinct, county, and state. Now they want a ring, not just a promise."

How about a button instead?

The tongue-in-cheek but politically astute Pink Dome makes available a come-to-Jesus statement that any honest politician in Texas should wear with pride.

Predictably enough, sightings of this badge of honor in the State Capitol are as rare as snow cones in hell.

[Title Image: Rembrandt's Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple from the Art Renewal Center]

Display: it mentions a number of corporate funders of dominionism, including none less than Pilgrim's Pride chicken.  (As it is, I strongly encourage people fighting for freedom and against dominionism to boycott dominionist businesses and corporate funders of dominionism--what's good for the goose is good for the gander, and in this case "starving the beast" by using one of their more effective weapons against them only helps us.  In fact, even dominionist boycotts and major funding sources of dominionists have been specifically stopped by the threat of boycotts and counter-boycotts by progressive groups; it's a tactic that the LGBT community is using with increasing success to fight the American Family Association et al.)

by dogemperor on Wed May 24, 2006 at 09:41:04 AM EST
Are fantastically disgusting and outrageusly cruel.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed May 24, 2006 at 11:23:11 AM EST
Agreed, though avoiding industrial farming still won't protect one from avoiding dominionists.  (Another dominionist corporate-sponsor noted in the article, Promised Land Dairies, specifically targets to the organic grocery community.  I've also found at least one "sprouted grain" bread producer--"Food for Life", which produces Ezekiel 4:9 and Genesis 1:29 breads--may have links itself to dominionist groups, too (in particular a spiritually abusive huckster associated with the Assemblies-linked "Messianic Jew" community, as well as being a major contributor to the Republican party in its state and nationally).)

Yet another argument in some ways for locally sourcing food whenever possible (I am extremely fortunate that this is easy where I live, being in a relatively rural state where the organic and small-farm agriculture industries are being promoted as a replacement for tobacco production, but I also realise it's much harder in other places).

by dogemperor on Wed May 24, 2006 at 01:35:12 PM EST

Pink Dome is on target with this post from January.

Follow the money, they always say. QR does and found out that Leininger is apparently behind some of the Republican challenges to incumbents that were opposed to school vouchers. We wondered how first-time candidates with no political background were all of the sudden running $16,000 TV ad runs. Targets? Carter Casteel, Charlie Geren, Delwin Jones, Roy Blake and Tommy Merritt.

Again, we see 'no room for moderates' in Texas. Y'all better do something or there will only be one voice in Texas. The shrill sky is falling and you're all going to hell and no funding for public education voice.

by moiv on Wed May 24, 2006 at 12:43:37 AM EST

For example, Texas sex ed. state policies : maybe these campaign fund sugar daddies characters want rising Syphilis and HIV rates in Texas ?

No, they probably just don't care.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed May 24, 2006 at 08:53:24 AM EST

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