Is ‘Evangelicals for Mitt’ a ‘Thinly Disguised Extension of the Romney Campaign?’

It’s no secret that Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has traditionally struggled to gain support among American evangelicals. While he has faced a uphill battle in this area, a pro-Romney group called “Evangelicals for Mitt” launched in 2005 to help garner support among Christian factions.

The web site, which was founded by Nancy and David French, a couple from Columbia Tennessee, provides a platform for evangelical support for Romney. In addition to a blog, the French family writes for and appears on media outlets to defend Romney and his policies. While they describe their efforts as independent, unofficial and “grassroots,” others wonder if these characterizations are, indeed, true. “We are nothing. We are a group of friends,” Nancy French says.

The group’s “About Us” page corroborates these claims:

Evangelicals for Mitt is, first and foremost, a group of friends.  We aren’t part of the Romney campaign, though we’ve been working to bring Mitt and Ann Romney to the White House since 2005.  Why?  Quite simply because he’s the best presidential candidate we’ve seen in a long time.

According to Time Magazine, some campaign finance experts may not be buying into these statements, as they question whether the pro-Romney group is “a thinly disguised extension of the Romney campaign.” Fred Wertheimer, founder and President of Democracy 21, is one individual who is curious about the Frenches’ attachments. “They appear to be able to spend lots of money, but won’t say where it comes from,” he says. “It is circumstantial evidence, but it suggests this is a shell group for a Romney operation.”

A screen shot from the "Evangelicals for Mitt" web site

Time has more about the connections that are leading some, like Wertheimer, if there is an official relationship to the campaign:

The Frenchs are also quietly linked to two wealthy Romney donors in Massachusetts, John Kingstonand Kurt Keilhacker, and all four have close ties to Romney’s campaign funding organization through a web of companies and nonprofits. Among other things, the four operate a Christian nonprofit organization that raises money out of a building in Beverly, Mass., at 138 Conant Street. The company that handles the Romney campaign’s finances shares that same address.

David and Nancy French come from modest means. Evangelicals for Mitt, however, has made news by spending serious money. The group tipped the scales in favor of Romney at the April 2010 Southern Republican Leadership Conference straw poll in New Orleans by buying at least 200 tickets for Romney supporters at a total cost of nearly $40,000. It handed out 800 copies of Romney’s book “No Apology” and 2,000 Evangelicals for Mitt piggybanks. Attendees who took up the offer speculated in the press that Evangelicals for Mitt must have found them via Romney’s campaign e-mail contact list.

Nancy French explained the massive expenditures away, saying that “friends” had assisted the couple in being able to spend to monumentally. She has also declined to share the source of the money, though the obvious assumption among those who are skeptical is that it came from the Romney campaign.

As far as the non-profit organization goes, it’s called SixSeeds. Interestingly, the group’s tax records show that its treasurer is Bradley Crate, who, coincidentally, is also the chief financial officer of the Romney campaign.

Experts also claim that Nancy and David may be in their jurisdiction to decline to share their group’s expenditures, as the majority of their work is confined to the “Evangelicals for Mitt” web site and media appearances. The Federal Election Commission, though, could investigate, Time reports. This decision would depend on how the group raises money. So far, “Evangelicals for Mitt” isn’t registered as a political group or a non-profit entity.

With Romney’s support coming in so low among “born-again” and evangelical voters across America, it is quite possible that the campaign has enlisted the help of a “grassroots” group to help shore up support. That being said, it’s also possible that the Frenches are what they claim — passionate supports who simply have connections to the Romney camp.

Read more about the Frenches and connections to the Romney campaign here.