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Founder of group financing Pastor Policy Briefings, ‘The Response’ endorses Perry

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/07/MahurinReligion_Thumb.jpgWhile Gov. Rick Perry drew criticism for the political overtones to the August prayer rally he hosted just days before he announced his run for the presidency, The Response also focused national attention on the American Family Association, the controversial conservative group funding the event.

As a religious nonprofit, the Mississippi-based AFA — a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated anti-gay hate organization, is barred from directly or indirectly supporting or opposing any candidate for public office. At least two previous IRS investigations concerning political intervention have targeted either AFA or an organization linked to its individual partners, the Texas Independent previously reported. The Perry team consistently billed the event as apolitical and nonpartisan, despite event endorsers’ numerous personal and professional ties to Perry. At the end, no explicit endorsement of the governor was made during the rally. But a recent Religion News Service article offers a glimpse into AFA founder and chairman emeritus Don Wildmon’s political motivations.

From James Dobson to Jerry Falwell Jr., the article details support for Perry by the country’s leading evangelical figures. Wildmon is featured alongside the religious heavyweights as “endorsing” Perry for president.

“I think the overwhelming majority of what’s often called the ‘religious right’ will support the governor,” he told RNS. “I’m going to do whatever I can to help the man get elected.”

Wildmon’s endorsement is transparent, it remains “somewhat unclear” whether his statement was made in his individual capacity or as an officer of AFA, said Tara Malloy of the Campaign Legal Center in an e-mail. It’s a distinction that’s key in determining whether the groups crossed federal tax law boundaries.

Often, religious figures now make a point of distinguishing between remarks made in a personal and an official capacity — as Robert Jeffress did at First Baptist Church of Dallas days after proclaiming his Perry endorsement. (Perhaps to give himself even more distance, he even referred to his candidate of choice as “Ron Perry.”)

However, Wildmon’s group appears to echo its founder’s call to propel Perry to the presidency. Spending some $600,000 to finance the Perry-hosted Houston prayer rally, the AFA also serves as the money machine behind influential Pastor Policy Briefings, the most recent of which will include a Perry appearance, according to our sister site the Iowa Independent.

The all-expenses-paid, largely private meetings aim at enticing congregants and religious leaders to vote their faith. An invitation insert, said to come from the desk of David Barton, encourages pastors to “engage in battle” to restore America to its Judeo-Christian heritage that’s been under attack.

The language used in the insert was similar to wording Perry used in an invitation to the Texas Restoration Project, a precursor to the policy briefings, also supported by the AFA, and held at the time of his 2006 reelection efforts.

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