The Political Utility of the National Prayer Breakfast

The Political Utility of the National Prayer Breakfast July 29, 2018

The New York Times reports about the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which is really just an event designed to foster political and financial relationships with a thin veneer of religion to make it look like something it’s not. Lobbyists use the event to charge huge amounts of money to make introductions for their clients to government officials and those in a position to influence policy.

The subculture around the breakfast was thrust into the spotlight last week with the indictment of Ms. Butina, who was charged with conspiring to act as a Russian agent. Her goals, prosecutors said, included gaining access to the breakfast “to establish a back channel of communication” between influential Russians and Americans “to promote the political interests of the Russian Federation.”

Ms. Butina’s spy-thriller-like tactics hint at the more widespread, if less sensational, international maneuvering that pervades the prayer breakfast, and the lucrative opportunities it creates for Washington’s corps of lobbyists and fixers, according to more than half a dozen people who have been involved in peddling access around the event.

Ahead of Mr. Trump’s first appearance at the breakfast last year, some of the people said, foreign politicians clamored for tickets, with some offering to pay steep fees to get into the event and the myriad gatherings on its sidelines.

One lobbyist, Herman J. Cohen, offered what he billed as an exclusive invitation to last year’s breakfast, and three days of meetings around it, to an African leader for $220,000…

Lobbyists say the event has become even more of a coveted invitation in the Trump era, as foreign politicians scrambled to forge connections with a president who swept into office with few ties to the international community or Washington’s hierarchy of established foreign access brokers.

With its relative lack of diplomatic protocols and press coverage, the prayer breakfast setting is ideal for foreign figures who might not otherwise be able to easily get face time with top American officials, because of unsavory reputations or a lack of an official government perch, according to lobbyists who help arrange such trips. They also contend that it is easier to secure visas when the breakfast is listed as a destination.

None of this should be at all surprising. The Christian right really has little to do with religion and everything to do with access to political power. You can see how easily and casually they contradict everything they’ve ever said about righteousness and morality in the service of access to power in their overwhelming support for Donald Trump. After decades of arguing that private sexual behavior is not private but a matter of public morality and that if someone will lie to their wife about an affair, they’ll also lie to the American people, they are now backing an admitted sexual predator who lies with every breath.

No, this has little to do with religion. Religion is just a means to the end of political influence and power for them, as it has been for so many others throughout history. Cloaking one’s political activities in religion provides lots of benefits and tax exemptions aren’t even close to the most important. It also serves to insulate them from criticism because, for some weird reason, in America we have this weird idea that religious beliefs are different from other kinds of beliefs and should not be criticized. And it allows them to distract attention from their real goals and activities. While your head is bowed in prayer, they’re picking your pocket.

Browse Our Archives