By Peter H. Stone
The Center for Public Integrity
The political unit of a religious conservative group called Renewing American Leadership, whose honorary chair is Newt Gingrich, is aiming to raise $500,000 to $1 million for high-stakes political issues in its first year.
Gingrich, who is weighing a run for president, could boost his ties to religious leaders through the group. ReAL Action tasted success last year by channeling $150,000 to help recall Iowa Supreme Court justices who sided with gay marriage.
Rick Tyler, Gingrich’s long-time communications aide, told the Center that the group has already spent almost $250,000 on two high stakes projects in Washington and in Iowa. Tyler is a director of Renewing American Leadership and president of ReAL Action, its 501(c)4 political branch.
Founded last summer, ReAL Action is a key player in a conservative coalition that has generated grassroots support for legislation recently introduced in both the House and the Senate requiring a balanced budget amendment. Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah have introduced similar bills, which conservative activists call the Common Sense Balanced Budget Amendment.
Tyler said Real Action recruited and pays the salary of Kellen Guida, the balanced budget coalition’s director, and helped to put together its website—BBAnow.com. Other members of the coalition include Americans for Tax Reform, the National Taxpayers Union and American Solutions, a 527 political group launched by Gingrich several years ago.
“Encumbering our children and grandchildren with unsustainable debts has moral implications,” Tyler said. He said Gingrich signed a fundraising letter about a year ago to help get the coalition off the ground, but cannot do any more fundraising since he announced earlier this month that he was exploring a presidential run.
Separately, ReAL Action last year gave two grants to conservative groups totaling $150,000 which were active in the successful fight to oust three state Supreme Court justices after the Iowa court overturned a ban on gay marriages.
ReAL Action sent $125,000 to the American Family Association Action and another $25,000 to the Iowa Christian Alliance, which were instrumental in the court fight.
The Iowa recall effort coincided with Gingrich’s efforts in key primary states to woo social conservatives, who could be important allies if he opts to run. In particular, Iowa and South Carolina primary voters are heavily evangelical. For Gingrich, the former House Speaker who has been divorced twice and is now on his third marriage, the stakes are high in courting religious conservatives.
Tyler said the 501(c)4 ReAL Action was set up because it can spend money on political activities that Renewing American Leadership, a 501 (c) 3 group, can’t legally do. But by law, 501(c)4s must spend the majority of their funds on non- political projects. Tyler said that he expects to step down as president of ReAL Action and as a director of the other group by month’s end, because Gingrich is now in a presidential exploratory phase.
The mission of Renewing American Leadership, which was founded in early 2009, is, to “preserve America’s Judeo-Christian heritage by defending and promoting the three pillars of American civilization: freedom, faith and free markets.” Gingrich has signed fundraising letters for the group and its website helps promote his television appearances and books.