This morning Nancy and I woke up to a first-in-our-lives experience: an actual mainstream media hit piece against . . . us. Yep, a Time reporter took to the “Swampland” political blog to write an extended piece about our “close ties” to the Romney campaign. It begins:
Nancy and David French, a couple from Columbia, Tenn., are perhaps the most visible evangelical supporters of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. They started a group called Evangelicals for Mitt back in 2005. Both regularly post to a pro-Romney blog at the Evangelicals for Mitt website. Nancy French just last week began writing her posts from Des Moines, Iowa. And Nancy and David have both contributed to National Review, where they occasionally defend Romney and criticize his rivals.
That sounds innocent enough, right? (Except he missed a big chunk of our advocacy. We’ve also written in support of Mitt in the Washington Post, Daily Caller, and many times here on Patheos). The story goes downhill from there:
Though David and Nancy French deny it, campaign finance experts say the couple’s group looks like a thinly disguised extension of the Romney campaign. “They appear to be able to spend lots of money, but won’t say where it comes from,” says Fred Wertheimer, founder and President of Democracy 21. “It is circumstantial evidence, but it suggests this is a shell group for a Romney operation.”
Indeed, what is perhaps most interesting about Evangelicals for Mitt is how apparent its links to Romney Central are. Nancy French worked for Romney’s 2008 campaign and partnered with Romney’s wife, Ann, on an unpublished book. The couple also served as steering committee vice chairs on Romney’s 2008 National Faith and Values Steering Committee.
The Frenchs are also quietly linked to two wealthy Romney donors in Massachusetts, John Kingston and Kurt Keilhacker, and all four have close ties to Romney’s campaign funding organization through a web of companies and nonprofits.
Sounds scary. I love all the loaded phrases: “thinly disguised,” “quietly linked,” and a “web of companies and nonprofits.” But wait . . . our links are also “apparent.” What is it? Are we shadowy or are we transparent? Turns out we’re pretty transparent. I wrote in the Daily Caller how we came to know Mitt and Ann personally and how they showed great kindness to Nancy while I was deployed to Iraq. We disclosed on Evangelicals for Mitt that Nancy worked with Ann on a book project and worked for the campaign in 2008 to get Mitt on the ballot in Tennessee. Heck, I’ve told the same thing to reporters for years.
As for the “quiet linkage” to John Kingston and Kurt Keilhacker, all I can say is the linkage is so quiet that we put it on a website (note to Nancy: please update our bios and pictures!)
But after setting us up for scandal, it turns out that Time can’t deliver:
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.
When asked by TIME where that money came from, Nancy French merely says, “We’ve got friends.” And she argues that her group is not compelled to reveal the source of that money because the spending occurred in April 2010. “This was before he was a candidate,” she said of Romney. “So the campaign finance stuff did not apply in terms of the limits.”
That is true, says Larry Noble, a campaign finance attorney, who suggests the group has received sound legal advice.
I would hope we received “sound legal advice”! After all, I was the main one giving it. As an aside, the “modest means” line made me laugh. In actuality, we’re blessed by any reasonable measure. (I liked one Facebook friend’s line: ”You went to Harvard Law School but are of modest means. Does this make you the Wal-Mart 1%?”).
Here’s the way Evangelicals for Mitt works. When there is no presidential campaign we have the liberty to spend our own money and to raise money from friends to convince Mitt to run and to argue that he’s best equipped to repair our economy, defend life, and confront jihad. The instant the campaign officially starts, we stop spending and raising money (thank you, John McCain for limiting my freedoms) and just run our little blog, write in other outlets, answer media inquiries, volunteer when we can, and talk to anyone who’ll talk to us. We give the maximum donations to the campaign, but that’s it.
In other words, we support a candidate for president, we put our money where our mouth is, we work hard, and we comply with the law. Last time I checked, that was called “citizenship.”
The article does, however, end with a compliment (I’ll choose to take it that way):
If Gingrich continues to win that crucial evangelical voting bloc, Romney, ever the victim of evangelical caution towards Mormonism, may have to rely on David and Nancy French more than ever.
This qualifies as perhaps the most astonishing overstatement of our abilities I’ve ever read. If we were as effective as we wanted to be, Newt Gingrich wouldn’t be winning over the “crucial evangelical voting bloc.” We do our best, but I’d be lying if I said Newt’s evangelical surge wasn’t distressing . . . on a number of levels.
A final note. Yes, the Kingston family and the French family are closely tied. In fact, we are the dearest of friends. John and I met twenty years ago this fall. I was an intimidated first-year law student living 700 miles from anyone I knew, and John was the first Christian I met at Harvard (I heard him talking about C.S. Lewis and literally left my place in a registration line to introduce myself). A few weeks later we formed a reading/discussion group called “Pilgrim’s Progress” and wrestled with life’s great questions over coffee paid for with student loans. Inspired by William Wilberforce and his famous Clapham Circle, we vowed to work together to do all we could to defend life and renew our culture.
In the years that followed we founded Harvard Law School’s only pro-life student organization, the Society for Law, Life, and Religion. When I deployed, John, his wife Jean, Nancy, and the many friends we’ve made through Evangelicals for Mitt organized an effort to send packages to the 1,000 soldiers at my base, and 2,500 packages arrived. Through their organization, SixSeeds, John, Jean, and their SixSeeds partners have given hundreds of thousands of dollars in money and goods to not only care for soldiers but to aid adoptions, help impoverished students, and equip families for better lives. Importantly, it’s been done in the context not just of writing checks but of actually doing the work, teaching their children that prosperity is a blessing not a right and that Christ’s call to serve apply to each of us — young and old.
Our work together on Evangelicals for Mitt is part of a lifetime of partnerships, and that political project will end — in victory or defeat — soon enough. There are few greater blessings than working with friends to do our best to fulfill Christ’s call on our lives. We do it imperfectly, but twenty years after hearing the words “As C.S. Lewis said in The Great Divorce,” I can say that it’s been one of the enduring privileges of my life.
That’s the story I wish Time had told, but we’ll settle for the one we got. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for my lavishly-funded pro-Mormon evangelical conspiracy meeting.