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Is George Soros funding the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), a collective of liberal and conservative faith leaders who have come together to rally in support of comprehensive immigration reform?
Following news reports alleging that the atheist billionaire is tied to the much-heralded cohort, TheBlaze decided to explore the issue further to better understand what's happening and to determine whether the circulating allegations are accurate.
After all, Soros has a history of funding progressive faith groups -- and immigration is a hot-button issue that has major sociopolitical significance. With the power and sway that churches and pastors have, the purported move, considering the billionaire's past faith-based funding choices, would be entirely plausible.
At the center of the most recent funding debate is the National Immigration Forum (NIF), the organization that launched the EIT last year and that facilitates its current activities (note: NIF is not a religiously-affiliated organization, although it has a history of working with the faith community). It is this Soros-funded group (the NIF) that is sparking criticism, as it has received millions of dollars from the mogul, calling into question its activities in the theistic sphere.
According to its website, the NIF, "promotes responsible federal immigration policies, addressing today’s economic and national security needs while honoring the ideals of our Founding Fathers, who created America as a land of opportunity." The group, founded in 1982, advocates for immigration reform, while also working to build coalitions with various cohorts in support of this goal.
Media accounts proceeded to recap the NIF's past funding from Open Society Foundations: $257,152 in 2009 for an immigration reform campaign, $1.5 million in 2009 to manage the Four Pillars Campaign for immigration reform (among other related activities) and two grants in 2010 totaling $1.5 million to facilitate general operations (TheBlaze confirmed these donations during a phone call with the NIF).
As a result of this report about Soros' alleged involvement in EIT, Eric Metaxas, a popular Christian author and leader, pulled out of the evangelical group, announcing his decision on Twitter earlier this week. The choice of such a prominent individual to separate himself from the cohort over alleged Soros funding is certainly noteworthy.
While Metaxas' action has captured attention and added credence to the Soros funding claims, not everyone is making quick determinations, with some offering intriguing caveats that they believe critics should consider before putting final judging on the NIF.
Rev. Rodriguez Responds to Allegations That Soros Money Has Gone to the EIT
The Christian Post followed up the Soros allegations with an article of its own, highlighting a denial from the NIF and the EIT that the liberal billionaire's money had been allocated to the Christian group for a recent pro-immigration reform ad campaign. Earlier this month, the Huffington Post reported about the details of the ad blitz -- one that is intended to support Congress' proposed immigration reform plan:
This week, the evangelical leaders behind this effort released details of the campaign, which has a price tag of $250,000. They said the campaign includes ads that will air nationally on the Salem Communications Network.
Adds will also air in 13 key states: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Furthermore, billboards urging people to pray for immigration reform will also appear near congressional offices in four states: Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.
The ad campaign is part of the larger 92-day Pray for Reform campaign put together by the Evangelical Immigration Table, an organization made up of Evangelical churches, leaders, universities and organizations throughout the country. The group has already released ads in newspapers and on the radio, hoping to build support for the immigration bill introduced in the Senate by the so-called "Gang of Eight." The bill was approved in the Senate Judiciary Committee May 21 and it now heads to the Senate floor.
You can listen to the ads that comprise the campaign, below:
Now, let's delve further into the debate. The aforementioned Post article quotes the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and a vocal member of the EIT. He said that he was told, when he inquired with the NIF, that funding for the campaign came from Paul Singer, a Republican billionaire, Walmart and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others. None of the money for the ad campaign, based on what he was told, came from Open Society (and no money has ever, as far as he knows, come from the Soros funnel).
"No funding from George Soros has been used by the Evangelical Immigration Table," read an e-mail that Rodriguez received from Ali Noorani, executive director of NIF (he shared this information with the Post and TheBlaze).
However some would point out that the EIT, whose parent organization is the NIF, does, indeed, have some connection to Soros money -- even if it is through indirect means. From the NIF's staff time to the general dependence the group has on Open Society funding to carry out its work, one could argue that EIT benefits, in some form, by Soros' funding of the NIF.
Considering all of these elements, TheBlaze decided to do an investigation of our own. First, we called Rodriguez to confirm his take on the situation and his previous comments with the Post. He explained that the EIT, as noted, is an extension of the NIF and that it serves as the coalition's "convening entity" (you may recall that the reverend spoke at "Under God: Indivisible," an event that unfolded in Dallas, Texas, last year surrounding Glenn Beck's "Restoring Love" event).
While he is aware that the organization (NIF) receives funding from Soros' Open Society Foundations, the faith leader said that he has been assured that none of this money has been used to fund the EIT.
Rodriguez also made it clear that he disagrees fervently with Soros' political perspective and that, if there was any intermingling of money, he would no longer be a part of the EIT (again, though, some might argue that the NIF's financial relationship with Open Society -- and management of the EIT -- is troubling).
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference speaks during the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday commemorative service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, in Atlanta. The speech marks the first time a Latino leader has served as the keynote speaker for the commemorative service on the King holiday. Credit: AP
"George Soros' worldview runs counter-opposite to what I believe in -- [it is] so diametrically opposed. I am opposed to the views and how George Soros has funded so many agendas that run contrary to my own [ideas]," he said. "I would not be a happy camper if I was aware ... that he was subsidizing the Evangelical Immigration Table."
Driving the point home, the faith leader said that he would immediately let media know if he ever learns that the information he has received from the NIF -- the assurance that no Soros money has been given -- is misleading.
The NIF Responds to Critics Over Soros Funding
To gain additional perspective, TheBlaze also interviewed Noorani. He explained that the roots of the EIT were set in 2011. Considering the millions that his organization received between 2009 and 2010, some might argue that Soros funding was surely making its way to the evangelical cohort in an effort to employ faith leaders to push a pro-immigration reform agenda.
But in addition to claiming that the billionaire's money was separated and never used for the EIT, he also said that, since announcing the EIT -- an effort that engages liberals and conservatives, alike -- his organization has experienced a major drop-off in support from Open Society.
In fact, while last year's total budget for NIF was $3 million, he said that Soros' funding only accounted for about 10 percent of that sum.
"This year and last year Soros has -- as the Forum has started to engage across the political spectrum -- our funding has decreased," Noorani said.
As for critics who would charge that the billionaire atheist is secretly using NIF to get to the heart of conservative and liberal churches and to push through immigration reform, the executive director dismissed these charges.
"If that institution really wanted to use this strategy, [they'd be giving] 30, 40 or 50 percent [of our overall budget]," he continued.
Founder of Soros Fund Management LLC George Soros attends the Boao Forum for Asia on April 8, 2013 in Qionghai, Hainan Province of China. State and government leaders from Asia and other regions have been invited to attend three-days of economic meetings for the annual Boao Forum for Asia in Boao, a coastal town in south China's Hainan Province. Credit: Getty Images
Again, one could argue that Open Society Foundations' financial gifts to NIF enable the organization to operate, regardless of the amount given, and that any staff time (Noorani says that the time it takes to support the group is minuscule and that faith leaders and partner groups have devoted their own staff time to its operations) is, in a sense, coming from at least a portion of Soros' money.
Since Open Society funds the NIF -- and since the NIF essentially runs EIT -- even if the money is separate in terms of allocation, the connection will still be seen as troubling by some conservative critics.
Noorani did write an article about the EIT back in April for the Open Society Foundations blog, but he said that this was merely an opinion piece, not a report based on funding. At no point, he maintains, did Open Society have anything to do with the creation, formation or operation of the evangelical cohort.
"None of the money that we've received from Open Society supports the evangelical round-table," he said, noting that the 10 percent that comes from the group is used for work outside of the evangelical partnership. "From day one of our existence, we've been completely transparent about everything we do -- we enjoy a wide range of partnerships."
From the beginning, it appeared as though the NIF knew that there would be potential ramifications of Soros monies weren't separated from the EIT's operations. So, according to Noorani, the organization made an extra effort to be open and honest with partners.
"We were able to raise resources from conservative individuals and corporations and others so that there was never a need to use any additional resources," he said, calling media claims about Soros funding and the EIT "imaginary connections." "We knew that this work would be most successful and powerful with support from conservative donors."
Noorani also praised his group's ability to bring people together from both sides of the aisle, an action that is rare in today's political schema (especially when it comes to a controversial issue like immigration reform). To date, he claims thousands of prayer partners have joined in to push for immigration reform.
George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management, speaks during a press conference on the first day of the 43rd Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. Credit: AP
The Controversial Ad Campaign
As for the ad series that some outlets have decried, the main issue seems to be that the EIT publicly claimed that it paid for these immigration reform spots. But since the group is not a registered non-profit and is essentially an off-shoot of NIF, critics found it curious that the EIT didn't admit that the latter group coordinated and made payment.
Since the NIF coordinated resources to pay the bill, the Soros connection has come to light -- but it takes a bit more digging to understand exactly where funding for the ads came from.
To date, Noorani claims that his organization has given about (although he did not have the numbers in front of him) $500,000 this year and between $100,000 to $200,000 last year to the EIT (this is an estimate that includes the $250,000 cost of the ad campaign). The additional $250,000, Noorani claims, has gone toward local activities on the part of EIT partners.
"Other resources (none of which come from Soros) are used for local outreach efforts by Table organizations. Table organizations contribute their own resources to these efforts as well," the executive director wrote in a follow-up e-mail to TheBlaze.
As for the $250,000 devoted to the campaign, this money was collected through the NIF and the ad buy was then coordinated by the organization on behalf of EIT.
Rather than footing the bill in its entirety for the EIT's activity, Noorani also explained that the faith leaders have worked with the organization to raise money and that the members -- liberal and conservative, alike -- have made all of the decisions surrounding general operations.
As for the way in which the ad was presented, Noorani defended it, noting that the EIT's purchase of the spot was "an absolutely fully acceptable way for coalitions to operate." Considering the EIT's relationship to the organization, the money was paid on the evangelical group's behalf.
While some may see all of this as evidence of a Soros-backed project, NIF -- and most of the faith leaders associated with the effort -- reject this notion.
Dr. Richard Land, a well-known conservative face in the evangelical community, told the Christian Post that Soros' donations, even if they came to the EIT directly, would not have dissuaded his support for the group. He believes in immigration reform based on his interpretation of the Bible and Soros' money wouldn't change that either way. Rodriguez expressed similar sentiment.
"If God can use the jawbone of an ass to achieve His purpose, He can use George Soros, too," Land said.
Regardless of these explanations, some are still discontented over the relationship between Open Society and NIF, with angst and fears over whether the billionaire, known for giving to left-of-center organizations, is using his wallet to exert control over faith leaders and communities, alike. If true, this wouldn't be the first time that TheBlaze has covered Soros' use of religion to progress liberal ideology.
Soros' History of Funding Faith Groups
In 2011, we produced a series on this very subject (here's part one, part two and part three). While these stories were certainly troubling to some religious people at the time -- especially considering that Soros is an atheist and has no vested interest in faith groups -- they also revealed an intriguing strategy that the billionaire appears to be using to push his agenda.
The first story we produced on Soros' faith funding focused upon Faithful America (FA), a group that has a history of blatantly utilizing faith to progress liberal policies. Back in March 2011, we covered FA’s campaign to encourage radio stations to “give up Glenn Beck for lent.”
At the time, TheBlaze also noted that a contact listed on the FA web site was Kristin Ford (the only contact, in fact). Ford is the director of communications for Faith in Public Life, the group that currently owns and operates FA. Interestingly, FA was originally founded by the National Council of Churches, an allegiance of left-leaning denominations that has been accused of sponsoring communist regimes in the past.
While NCC no longer runs FA, Faith in Public Life (its new parent organization), coincidentally, also received a two-year $450,000 grant in 2009 from Soros (partially tied to the group’s work toward achieving immigration reform). The parent organization sometimes takes to its blog to defend Soros — one of its funders – against Beck.
One can easily see that FA’s ”faith-based” initiatives put a very minor focus on issues of religious significance (the EIT does differ in this regard, as faith is a central argument in the push for immigration reform).
The second group we explored was NCC (mentioned above). According to a special report compiled by the The Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD) back in 2006, NCC has not lived up to its spiritual commitments nor to its intended purposes:
The reality of the NCC has always fallen short of its high ideals. Articulating a “common faith in Jesus Christ” has not been a high priority for the council, as measured by its budgets, news releases, and publications. Instead the stress has fallen upon a “prophetic” social witness (i.e., taking positions on controversial political issues).
A brief look at the group’s task forces and activities expose its stances on illegal immigration, global warming and other “justice” issues. Soros has also reportedly given this group a plethora of money as well (read the full story).
Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, speaks during a press conference at the United Methodist Building January 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. The group of religious leader organized by Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence held the news conference to speak out against gun violence and call for gun law reform including a ban on assault style weapons and universal background checks. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
The third organization we explored was Jim Wallis' Sojourners -- a group that has, in the past, also had financial tied Soros — a fact that Wallis, himself, once infamously denied (he, too, is a part of the EIT). In 2010, the liberal faith leader flatly denied accusations that his organization received funding from Soros. A battle royale commenced at the time when World Magazine’s Marvin Olasky asked Wallis to admit his leftist affiliations. Olasky wrote:
George Soros, one of the leading billionaire leftists—he has financed groups promoting abortion, atheism, same-sex marriage, and gargantuan government—bankrolled Sojourners with a $200,000 grant in 2004. A year later, here’s how Jim rebutted a criticism of “religious progressives” for being allied with Soros and MoveOn.org: “I know of no connections to those liberal funds and groups that are as direct as the Religious Right’s ties to right-wing funders.”
Since then Sojourners has received at least two more grants from Soros organizations. Sojourners revenues have more than tripled—from $1,601,171 in 2001-2002 to $5,283,650 in 2008-2009—as secular leftists have learned to use the religious left to elect Obama and others.
While the EIT's funding may be more indirect, it's founding organization -- the NIF, a non-religious group -- is most definitely an Open Society recipient. As a result, EIT's ties to Soros money are valid to point out, however the extent to which the funding is touching EIT outreach projects may not be as strong and direct as it was with these other groups.