Beliefs Ethics Institutions Politics

New ‘Nuns on the Bus’ tour to tackle political ‘dark money’

NETWORK Nuns on the Bus design for 2014. Photo courtesy of NETWORK
NETWORK Nuns on the Bus design for 2014. Photo courtesy of NETWORK

NETWORK Nuns on the Bus design for 2014. Photo courtesy of NETWORK

(RNS) This time it’s the Catholic sisters versus the Koch brothers.

That’s one way to look at the upcoming “Nuns on the Bus” tour, which hits the road next week (Sept. 17) for the third time in three years, a monthlong trip though 10 key U.S. Senate battleground states to campaign against the influence of outside money on politics.

The issue has come to be identified with the wealthy industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch, whose huge contributions to conservative political causes have raised concerns about the role of “dark money” on elections.

The spigot for such undisclosed donations, which can be made by unions as well as corporations, was opened by the controversial 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. That was followed by another 5-4 ruling in April of this year, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.

“It’s all about ‘we the people’ standing up against big money,” said Sister Simone Campbell, who heads Network, a Catholic social justice lobby on Capitol Hill that is organizing more than 75 events in 36 cities along the 5,252-mile route.

Sister Simone Campbell addresses an audience Monday July 2, 2012 to concluded the Nuns on the Bus tour.

Sister Simone Campbell addresses an audience Monday July 2, 2012 to conclude the Nuns on the Bus tour. Religion News Service photo by Chris Lisee

The Nuns on the Bus exploded onto the political scene during the summer of 2012 when Campbell first led a group of sisters on a motor trip through battleground states, mainly in the Midwest.

The focus of that campaign was income inequality and the working poor. The appeal of Catholic nuns taking to the road in the midst of the heated presidential campaign put Campbell on television and — thanks to her Democratic-leaning agenda — earned her a prime-time speaking spot at the September 2012 convention that renominated President Obama.

Last summer, Campbell and the nuns went on the road again on behalf of immigration reform.

“I wasn’t going to do another bus trip this year,” Campbell said. “I thought, twice in a row — do we do a third one?”

But she said the growing role of outside money in elections, with no requirements to disclose how much is donated and by whom, convinced her that another bus trip was necessary, though she will have to raise $400,000 to fund the trip. Campbell said she has collected about $300,000 so far, mainly from Network members and from foundations that promote voter registration and health care reform.

Campbell said the tour isn’t aimed at advocating any particular policy or legislative fixes for unregulated campaign contributions. Instead it will focus on voter registration drives and canvassing low-income neighborhoods to rally voters to cast ballots in November.

“We want to say the 100 percent are welcome to the table of dialogue. But leave your money bags outside the door,” she said.

The sisters will also sit down with business leaders “to hear their perspective and ask about the common good in their perspective.”

Campbell will be accompanied on the bus by different Catholic sisters from each state the bus visits and they will stay at convents where possible.

The tour starts in Des Moines and at a subsequent stop in Davenport, Iowa, the local Catholic bishop, Martin Amos, will present an award to Campbell.

That’s significant because Campbell was one of the American nuns singled out for criticism in April 2012 by a Vatican investigation of a group representing most U.S. sisters, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The Vatican said that the LCWR and nuns like Campbell did not spend enough time defending church doctrine on abortion and sexual ethics, and focused too much on social justice work. That work reportedly included advocating for Obama’s health care reform law, which the U.S. hierarchy strongly opposed at the time.

The Vatican’s doctrinal chief this month renewed his “blunt” criticism of the LCWR and its members, and after the LCWR’s annual meeting in August some critics on the right said Pope Francis should revoke the LCWR’s Catholic bona fides.

Jeffrey Mirus, founder of the Catholic Culture website, wrote that such a step was necessary because the spirituality of the LCWR “is rooted in paganism, its cherished causes read like a secular wish list, and its whole attitude is profoundly anti-Catholic.”

After stops in Iowa, the latest Nuns on the Bus tour will continue with multi-city stops in Minnesota, Michigan, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Louisiana and one-off stops in Chicago, Atlanta and Charleston in West Virginia. The trip concludes in Denver on Oct. 20, two weeks before the mid-term elections that may well give Republicans control of the Senate in addition to the House.

(Editor’s note: David Gibson assisted Sister Simone Campbell in writing her memoir, “A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community,” which was published earlier this year.)

YS/AMB END GIBSON

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

18 Comments

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  • The Koch Brothers are constant targets for some so-called reformers on the left side politically..
    But many surveys show that one of the biggest corrupters of politics through money is a darling and angel of the left George Soros. However, the nuns can’t seem to find how to spell his name to put a spotlight on him and thus they leave him alone behind the scenes to manipulate the Democratic Party.

  • Even though these Dark Money groups are supposed to be independent of candidates, is there any doubt that super-PAC patrons want a return on their investment?

    Their return takes the form of obstructing the will of the people by ensuring that many important issues fail to become policy. This gap between election issues and policy issues is the democracy gap, resulting in democracy in name only.

  • the nuns should concern themselves exposing the child rapist they happily turn a blind eye to and leaving their god who refuses to do anything about it except to apparently enjoy it hisself.

  • Suzy,

    These nuns should not get involved in politics since Jesus and his disciples did not. They instead were preaching and teaching to other about the only hope for mankind, or God’s heavenly kingdom or government (Daniel 2:44; Matthew 4:17).

    That heavenly government will soon put an end to all human governments, an end to all wicked ones, and all sickness and disease, old age and death (Psalm 37:10,11; Revelation 21:1-4).

    And not only that, but God himself will put an end to the world empire of false religion, referred to as a harlot since she commits fornication with the kings of the earth (gets involved with politics) and is responsible for much bloodshed on earth (Revelation 17 and 18). She will be destroyed by the political systems of man and then those political systems will be brought down by God (Daniel 2:44).

    God will put an end to those false religions which have misrepresented him and for their immoral actions as well in short time!! 😀

  • If working for justice, equality, inclusion, and the poor is “profoundly anti-Catholic,” then one can only come to the conclusion that Christ himself was “anti-Catholic.” Or is it that Jeffrey Mirus and his cohorts are anti-Christian?

  • What about “the meek shall inherit the earth”? What is that if not a political statement of Christian hegemony? Assuming Jesus even existed (and there are NO extant contemporary accounts of his existence, only some accounts written decades after his so-called “sacrifice” on the cross), it would take a pretty blind eye to fail to see that the gospels paint a totally political Jesus who bucked the system and taught pacifism, while at the same time threatening a lot of violent deaths and eternal damnation for infidels like myself. A Little Hitler without an SS until Constantine came along.

  • One of the most bipartisan issues in politics is opposition to the oceans of money that are sloshing around in politics. That you don’t have a prayer of being elected without it. The Koch Brothers are THE symbol of that. Of course there’s big money on both sides. That’s not the point. Don’t get bogged down in trivia and lose sight of how very, very good a thing these women are doing.

    I see a group of people who are not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. I salute them.

  • You say there are “many surveys” showing that George Soros is one of the biggest corrupters of politics. Can you be more specific about these surveys? Names? Links? Do you have a comparison of the different amounts of money donated by both the Kochs and Soros?

  • I for one believe what the nuns are doing have merit. Someone has to speak out on the buying of elections and efforts to disenfranchise voters by some states. Yes, I agree that it does appear to the public that some nuns may not have spoken out about priest abuse of children, but could this have actually been true?

  • Agree 100%. All the attention from the Nuns on the Bus and other left wing wachos is focused on the Koch brothers while George Soros and many other Left Wing 1 % ers get a pass. The name for this is Hypocrites.

  • @John Grooms
    To the extent that numbers are visible, the best data I have seen was from opensecrets.org. Reviewing numbers on the sight is enlightening – for example, “business” money is roughly evenly split between the main political parties – maybe 45% / 55% from election to election, varying with control of Congress – this is in contrast to the stereotype of business interest always backing Republicans. Union money is 90% / 10% to the Democrats, which is pretty consistent with public image. Lawyers and lobbyists money is 65% / 35% to the democrats – which is entirely neglected in public discussion. The NRA – which is publicly described as a huge force in politics has a total spending in the noise compared with these other groups. But look around for yourself, since it changes each election. And this is based on money only – so for example unions used to provide a good deal of manpower which wouldn’t be counted here – although for non-government unions as they have drifted politically away from their members that is less true.

    For the specifics of Koch vs. Soros – the sum of the Koch brothers is a bit less than Soros+Soros foundation – about $4.9M vs.$5.5M. More generally, the top 10 individual donors are 5D/5R – even split, but the highest single contributor is Steyer (D) who dwarfs the rest of the list at $74M – 15x larger than either the Koch bros or Soros. In fact in the list of the top 100, the top 2 (both D), account for more money than the bottom 60.

    This is probably reasonably true – but with the changes due to Citizens United, the tracking may not be as accurate anymore.

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