Iowa Christian Alliance’s Steve Scheffler, religious right powerhouse of the Iowa Caucuses

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Monday, September 19, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Few Republicans have had as much pull in past Iowa Caucuses as Steve Scheffler. Once an operative for the Christian Coalition in the 1990s, Scheffler broke from that group to create the Iowa Christian Alliance. Ever since, he’s worked for and endorsed Republican presidential candidates as a committee member of the state Republican party, pushing the state GOP and the candidates further against LGBT rights.

Since former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee grabbed Iowa’s golden ring in 2008, the nation has been in tune with the influence and political power-grabbing being undertaken by religious conservatives in the Hawkeye State. But while such largess on behalf of these conservatives may have found their hay day with Huckabee, the push for power has been being quietly waged on the state level for a decade or more.

National media has focused on Bob Vander Plaats, a conservative Christian who ran for governor three times and lost. His group, the Family Leader, has engaged presidential candidates in a series of campaign events and urged them to sign a pledge so controversial, its language had to be changed.

Scheffler, current Republican National Committeeman and head of the Iowa Christian Alliance, has kept a lower profile opting instead to give the candidates private access to influential caucus goers and political leaders whose favor Scheffler has curried in the past by throwing the support of his decades long network of conservative Christian activists their way.

The Republican Caucuses

Scheffler scored big when he was a lead organizer for prominent evangelical Pat Robertson’s surprise second-place showing in the Iowa Caucuses in 1988. Robertson seemed a good fit for Scheffler. The 700 Club host is well known for his extreme views in regard to LGBT people.

In June of that year, while campaigning for president, Robertson said on his show, “What kind of craziness is it in our society which will put a cloak of secrecy around a group of people whose lifestyle is at best abominable. Homosexuality is an abomination. The practices of those people is appalling. It is a pathology. It is a sickness, and instead of thinking of giving these people a preferred status and privacy, we should treat AIDS exactly the same way as any other communicable disease.”

Robertson hasn’t backed off the extreme language in the 23 years since. “[Homosexuals] want to come into churches and disrupt church services and throw blood all around and try to give people AIDS and spit in the face of ministers,” he told viewers in 1995.

And in June of this year, he said that marriage equality for same-sex couples in New York would lead God to destroy America just like he did Sodom.

“In history there’s never been a civilization ever in history that has embraced homosexuality and turned away from traditional fidelity, traditional marriage, traditional child-rearing, and has survived,” he said. “There isn’t one single civilization that has survived that openly embraced homosexuality. So you say, ‘what’s going to happen to America?’ Well if history is any guide, the same thing’s going to happen to us.”

In 1995, Scheffler backed presidential candidate Sen. Bob Dole over several socially conservative candidates, including Phil Gramm of Texas, who was named by the Human Rights Campaign as an “extremist who have gone out of [his] way to attack lesbian and gay Americans.” Dole, on the other hand, had met with and taken campaign contributions from the Log Cabin Republicans. He later returned the money.

“I chose Bob Dole because he has got integrity, he has been tested, and he is honest,” Mr. Scheffler told the Washington Times in 1996. “He has the ability to defeat Bill Clinton, who absolutely must be defeated.”

“I just felt betrayed,” said Bob Haus, Iowa chair for Gramm in 1995, told the New York Times. The Gramm campaign had expected Scheffler, who was an organizer for the Christian Coalition, to jump on board.

Scheffler has often predicted conservative Christians would be the driving force behind the Republican caucuses, ensuring that anti-abortion-rights and anti-LGBT agendas come to the forefront.

“I think definitely we’ll want a concerted pro-family agenda addressed by those candidates running,” he told the Associated Press in 1994.

“I think there will be some formalized effort. … A lot of pro-family conservatives have missed the boat in the past,” he said. “I think we have to see the big picture. In 1996, we will be in a position to influence not only the presidential race, but the Senate race as well.”

Scheffler’s pick, Dole, won the caucuses that year.

In 1999, Scheffler endorsed Steve Forbes for president and worked as a field organizer for him. Forbes forged relationships with the Christian Coalition in the late-1990s, even speaking at the group’s national convention. Forbes was also adamantly anti-abortion rights by the time he announced a run for president.

George W. Bush, at least initially, was not conservative enough for Scheffler.

“Why doesn’t he speak out more on the cultural issues?” Scheffler, who had recently become the executive director of the Iowa Christian Coalition, told the Dallas Morning News in 1998. “He has a shot with the Christian conservatives if he speaks forthrightly on those issues, but he’s going to have to do it in a convincing way.”

By the 2008 presidential election cycle, Scheffler had become head of the Christian Coalition of Iowa which later became the Iowa Christian Alliance. His group was accused of trying to undermine Mike Huckabee’s campaign in favor of Mitt Romney’s.

Though Scheffler denied his group was working for or against any candidate, he often spoke highly of Romney.

Christian Coalition

In 1989, Pat Robertson founded the Christian Coalition. Ralph Reed ran its day-to-day operations, and Scheffler became an organizer for the group. The Coalition had a national office and many state-based offices that worked to bring conservative Christianity to government affairs.

In 1999, the Christian Coalition lost it’s nonprofit tax status. It also lost a series of top leaders.

”Christian Coalition of America will continue to be a force in American politics and it will remain a prominent fixture on the political landscape,” said religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, the Coalition’s president and founder according to the Virginian-Pilot.

The IRS had been investigating since 1989, and the reason for the investigation was the organization’s overt politicking including the groups’ voter guides.

And the Federal Elections Commission had complained that the Coalition had been engaging in activities that amounted to in-kind donations to Republican candidates.

Scheffler’s Iowa affiliate had created their own voter guides but they were reviewed by the national Coalition offices.

At the time, Scheffler served as the state’s field director. ”They have to be termed so that it does not appear to be biased,” he told the Virginian Pilot.

Although the organization strove for the appearance of being unbiased, the IRS found that they were not, and revoked the Christian Coalition’s tax-exemption.

“When this is over, whether it’s under the banner of the Christian Coalition or something else, we’re going to make certain the movement is viable,” Scheffler told the Hill in 1999. He had stepped down from Christian Coalition of Iowa to work for Steve Forbes’ campaign.

It would turn out that when it was all over, it would be under a different banner.

Scheffler led the exodus from Christian Coalition of Iowa in March 2006 and founded the Iowa Christian Alliance with 400 activists from the other organization’s tattered remains.

The split happened, Scheffler said, because of financial and management woes at the national office as well as disagreements over tax policy.

“When your budget goes down from $26 million to $1 million (in a decade) … it indicates the grass roots no longer has faith in the national organization,” Scheffler told Washington Times.

“When a faith-based group can’t get it right on a tax increase, how do you motivate the base?” he added, referring to the national office’s push for a tax increase in Alabama in 2003.

A year later, Scheffler said, “It’s the best thing we ever did. The national organization had lost its focus in terms of being a grass roots, positive organization. It became increasingly evident that it just didn’t have its act together.”

With the help of lobbyist Norman Pawlewski, the group brought renewed anti-LGBT fervor to the Iowa legislature, the state Republican Party and the Republican presidential races.

And in 2009, Scheffler and Ralph Reed would unite again when Reed’s new Faith and Freedom Coalition, modeled after the Christian Coalition, would launch in Iowa with Scheffler as the head.

Iowa Christian Alliance and anti-gay rhetoric

The Iowa Christian Alliance opposes relationship rights for same-sex couples, anti-bullying policies that explicitly protect LGBT students, hate crimes laws and laws that prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in housing and employment.

And the group does it with strong language.

“Homosexuals are the only group to claim minority status based on behavior,” wrote Pawlewski. “Polygamist behavior and incestual behavior are two other sexual orientation lifestyles. Should they also be granted civil rights protection? For decades the North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) has claimed a legal right to indoctrinate young boys into the joys of homosexual love. Should they be granted protection from objections from our culture? I think, not so much.”

Pawlewski was writing about the lawsuit that would eventually overturn
Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Pawlewski also suggested that Obama was not the anti-Christ, answering a question no one appeared to be asking:

There are several things about this election that give me pause. The crowds Obama drew during his campaign and on the day of his election, I took to be pretty spooky at best. Obama is a “politician,” not the Messiah, Mahdi, or the Anti-Christ. Why would hundreds of thousands of people come to a political rally? Some reports I’ve read claimed that millions of people around the world were ecstatic about Obama’s win. The sea of people at Grant Park in Chicago was unreal. I, for one, am going to read his speech very carefully. I think there are some clues to his intentions that need to be brought into the light. I urge you to do the same.

The group also writes a semi-regular document called “American Ministry Educating Our Nation,” or AMEN. The July 2006 edition read:

Did you know that the average life expectancy of a homosexual male is 47 years? How could a society like ours, which is so concerned with harmful lifestyle choices such as smoking, over-eating, and not wearing seatbelts, sit idly by and promote a homosexual lifestyle which cuts short the lives of so many? We would be hypocritical Christians if we failed to oppose sinful actions which cause such great repercussions (Rom. 1:20-32).

Scheffler’s assertion that gay men only live an average of 47 years appears to be a bastardization of a study done by Paul Cameron which has been criticized as being biased and using nonscientific methods.

The Iowa Christian Alliance promotes ex-gay therapy.

The Iowa Christian Alliance promotes ex-gay therapy and it opposes hate crimes laws. In an edition of AMEN, the group suggested that the push for hate crimes laws was “evil” working through LGBT activists.

“Pray! Paul writes in Ephesians that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces evil in the heavenly realm,” Scheffler’s group wrote. “The flood of pro-homosexual forces is a deceptive tactic of the enemy. ”

And Scheffler’s group is not shy about fighting the culture war:

[W]e must remember that we are in a culture war. We must fight this war without double mindedness and without retreat till Jesus returns. It is our purpose. In fact, it is fighting this war that prepares the way for Christ’s return and prepares us to rule with Him when he appears, but that is a topic for another article.

Pushing the party right

In 1994, Scheffler was involved in a push to move the Republican State Central Committee in a direction that was more opposed to LGBT rights than it already had been.

As a member of that committee, he sent a letter to Republican activists at the state convention saying, “It is absolutely crucial that the pro-family forces gain a working majority on the committee.” Scheffler and the conservative Christian faction needed on three seats to become a majority.

The campaign succeeded. Steven Greenhut of the Orange County Register recalled bumping into Scheffler at the Republican National Convention in 2000.

He wrote, “I remember him as the man who helped orchestrate a “takeover” of the Iowa GOP, using mailing lists and networking to turn the notoriously moderate Iowa GOP into something resembling an evangelical church meeting. A decent fellow, but we’re talking hard core.”

Eight years later, Scheffler and fellow Christian conservative would find themselves the target of backlash from moderates.

Moderates pushed an amendment to the party constitution that would bar party officials from working for candidates during the caucus season. That amendment seemed to target Scheffler.

“They are trying to purge the central committee of Christian conservatives,” Scheffler said.

The amendment particularly targeted committee members who made money off the presidential campaigns and Scheffler had been a staffer for Forbes campaign while he was a committee member.

“Ethics should forever be at the core of the Republican Party,” Todd Henderson, a delegate to the state party convention and a well-known Iowa campaign consultant told the Washington Times. “State central committee members should neither endorse candidates for president prior to nomination nor receive any money from the candidates’ campaign organizations before then.”

Scheffler blamed the movement on anti-conservative Christian bias:

“Somebody actually told me that anybody associated with religious conservatives…should not be on the central committee.”

Political pressure

Scheffler is no stranger to making political threats against candidates who don’t demonstrate sufficient animosity to LGBT rights.

In May 2010, he sent an email to openly gay Republican candidate for president, Fred Karger.

You don’t care about transparency–you and the radical homosexual community want to harass supporters of REAL marriage. I am the Republican National Committeeman for Iowa. As a private citizen and knowing literally thousands of caucus goers, I will work overtime to help ensure that your political aspirations are aborted right here in Iowa. Have you studied our past caucuses–you have NO chance here in Iowa!

Karger was excluded from a debate hosted by Scheffler’s group and Karger filed a complaint with the FEC.

Scheffler was no fan of President Bush.

“Here is a president who went to the mat for prescription drugs, No Child Left Behind, which in many of those peoples views, those are government expansion programs,” he told Fox News in 1997. “By the same token, no political energy was expended on the federal marriage amendment.”

And Scheffler was livid in a letter to Christian Republican activists in 2008 after Sen. John McCain appeared on the Ellen Degeneres show.

“Catering to the like of Ellen Degeneres is not acceptable behavior” for a GOP presidential candidate he wrote. “If you want the base to be there on election day, don’t tell us what we want to hear and then totally ignore the conservative, pro-family after you are elected.”

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