Time Takes a Swing at the Frenches

Time Takes a Swing at the Frenches December 12, 2011

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 Nancy French worked for Romney’s 2008 campaign and partnered with Romney’s wife, Ann, on an unpublished book.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.

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  • Ken

    David, I was privileged to know you at HLS during that same time. I don’t share many of your social or political views, but I am more confident in the quality of your character than I am of any other person writing about politics today. (And that DEFINITELY includes me.)

    I might not be a likely Mitt voter, but I know a hit piece when I see one, and this is one in spades. You and Nancy don’t deserve it.

    To me, the hit piece pulls back the curtain a bit on the anti-Citizens-United, get-money-out-of-politics mindset. Critics of a robust free expression approach to campaign finance may claim that they are trying to keep big corporate money out of politics — but ultimately people who write, advocate, and agitate the “wrong way” are in their crosshairs as well.

    Keep up the good fight — and I say that as someone who is on the other side on some issues.

  • Al K

    It did seem like a “hit piece,” though the writer does bring up some interesting points. I suppose investigative journalism will -always- appear to be a “hit piece” to the parties being investigated. While I wouldn’t vote for (or trust) anyone following a “be your own God” religion built on laughably disprovable tales about Mesoamerica, I applaud your strength of convictions in this man.

    So… what’s worse, marital infidelity or bizarre Masonio-religious superstitions? I say the latter, for religious conviction has been the cause of many wars, whereas infidelity has rarely led masses to their graves.

  • David French

    Thanks so much, Ken, for you kind words. You definitely oversell me and undersell yourself. I love reading your stuff. And I think you’re totally right about the Citizens United aspect of this (yet where is the equivalent attention given to, say, Obama’s astoundingly successful fundraising operation).

  • Even though, as someone who follows “a ‘be your own God'” mass of “bizarre Masono-religious superstitions,” I’m probably too stupid and irrational to be permitted full participation in American social and political life or have my opinion taken seriously, I too thought the Time article was an obvious (but also obviously weak) hit piece.

    Incidentally, along with a steadily growing group of fellow crazies who, like me, pretend to be scholars of one kind or another — roughly 325, at last count — I have a little essay up on line about my faith. It and the others can be found at



  • Phil

    Great article, David, in response to Time’s hit piece. Al K’s response in the comments above, however, shows precisely the kind of mentality that results in prejudice towards others because of their religious beliefs. Both Robert Jeffress and Bill Maher suffer from this same weakness, even though they are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. I see them in the same boat as far as prejudice towards those of different religious or world-view beliefs than their own. It is also the kind of mentality that both “Evangelicals for Mitt” and “Article 6 Blog” try to speak out against: the idea of voting or not voting for someone based on their religious convictions. It’s also a testament to how low sexual morality norms have gone in modern society when sizable numbers of people seem to think it’s preferable to have an adulterous president than a Mormon one. To those of such a persuasion: try listening to those who are members of the religious group you vilify instead of always relying on the hearsay of others who only criticize and find fault. Also try looking at how they live their lives, without pre-judging a large and diverse group of people based on a few not-so-good examples, when there are so many good ones to choose from. When you try to look at the beliefs of others through a fair and balanced lens, you may find that there are good reasons they believe the way they do, and that there are many plausible answers to questions that arise in their doctrinal beliefs as well as the nay-saying.

  • David Walser

    So… what’s worse, marital infidelity or bizarre Masonio-religious superstitions? I say the latter, for religious conviction has been the cause of many wars, whereas infidelity has rarely led masses to their graves.


    Didn’t Helen’s relationship with Paris spark the Trojan war?

    As for Romney’s belief in laughably disprovable and bizarre myths, you’ll have to point out from Romney’s public record how these beliefs have caused him to make poor business, public policy, and personal decisions. By my lights, Romney’s track record is one of a competent, steady, successful manager and of a loving, dependable, and caring husband and father. If these are the consequences of Romney’s delusions, our country would be better off if more in public life suffered from the same delusions.

  • Al K

    Phil, all good points. There are indeed “good reasons” why people become and remain LDS. That said, I know more about the history of the CJCLDS than most practicing adherents. I’ve debated key Mormon apologists, etc.. My conclusions are a result of exhaustive research on the foundations of the organization. Alas, there are a number of religious organizations whose true believers I personally would not trust with the nation’s highest office, including Scientology, Unification Church, Mormonism, etc.. But that’s my informed opinion, and I respect your opinions as well.

  • David French

    I personally hate anonymous commenting. Claims of expertise should be verifiable.

  • David, please accept my gratitude for what you and Nancy do for Mitt.
    It is no miracle that meaningful relationships have started with the interest in C.S. Lewis and John Bunyan followers. His questions about the three great questions, “Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?” are of interest to our spiritual values. The Mormon people have a fondness for Lewis and appreciate him for what he has contributed to the non LDS world. It lies close to our core interests and it is this that prompts us to engage others in our faith. The two friends who praise you do not get it.
    Whether Mitt becomes POTUS or not, you will be blessed because you are part of the plan. I pray for the redemption of the US people that he does make it. I hope for a better time. It saddens me to see the common voter clamor for the adulterer instead of the virtuous man.

  • Mark Evans

    It’s a hit piece, all right. For the record, I’ve been active at EFM since the spring of 2007 (led there by Hew Hewitt’s ‘A Mormon in the White House,” and have never been asked for a penny…or had it suggested that I give money to any other entity. The only request made of me — and that after I had expressed my desire to do something to help out — was a query as to whether I could attend that Southern Leadership Conference. (I was unable.)

    Of course there IS one tenuous link to David and the Republican establishment! He did, after all, volunteer to fight in a war that started during a Republican administration! I’m surprised the author didn’t bring THAT up…it would be on about the same level as the rest of his allegations.

  • Al K

    David, in general I agree. Yet I remain anonymous for more or less the same reasons you are annoyed by the TIME article. I have a public presence in an entirely unrelated field, and I want no public connections to this conversation. I have no “professional agenda” against Mitt, or any candidate, of any party. I derive no income from either politics or religion, and in fact am an engineer calling it as I see it. Fact is I was once physically assalted by an LDS member. For that reason alone, I am very selective. Your readers can digest what I have written, or write me off as a crank.

    As for Daniel’s scholarly testamony page, readers should know that roughly 70-80% of college and university professors “testify” to some kind of religious faith or spirituality, yet less than 1% are Mormons. (http://spirituality.ucla.edu/docs/results/faculty/spirit_professoriate.pdf)

  • I understand, of course, that intelligent people subscribe to all sorts of worldviews, and that the mere fact that an educated and intelligent person believes X goes little distance toward demonstrating that X is true.

    But the fact that numerous educated, successful, intelligent, thoughtful, rational people subscribe to X goes some CONSIDERABLE distance toward showing that claims like yours — implying that X is so “bizarre” and “laughably disprovable” a “myth” that truly educated, successful, intelligent, thoughtful, rational people cannot possibly believe it — are to be taken with a grain (or a ton) of salt.

    And I find myself wondering just exactly who those “key Mormon apologists” might be that, you anonymously assure us, you crushed in public debate. Can you provide any names and other specifics?

  • JJ

    You all are hypocrites. War destroys families and takes life. Both Gingrich and Romney are war candidates. They will take America on a destructive path to war with Iran. Vote Ron Paul to end this taking of lives!!!! He is the only sane, fully pro-life, pro-family candidate!

  • Nate F.

    Okay, I am going to have to come clean. I am the grassroots founder of a shadow group that is quietly linked to the Frenches through a web of companies, nonprofits and a half dozen shaved ice stands scattered throughout the Western United States. My group is called “Mormons for Evangelicals for Mitt.” Nobody really knows where we get all of our gobs of money, because we are a backwards group who of course could never afford a computer without a larger organization funding our little band of fools with some major corporate shady funding.
    ENOUGH! Who is Mark Benjamin? Is this journalism? What a load of garbage. So many flaws and so much to criticize, I don’t even know where to begin. Was exploration of the funding of Barack Obama investigated to the smallest degree by Time Magazine? There is nothing here. NOTHING!
    Just read what the Frenches have online. There are many, many articles and postings on various websites. I have never met them, but from all I have seen, would love to have them as neighbors. They are not shifty, dirty politicos. They are decent family oriented patriots that deserve respect, not sludge burrowing imaginery “journalism”

  • Nate F.

    I always appreciate kind reponses to ignorant comments.

  • Joshua and David of old were warriors worthy of praise. Our own David here took the risk of warrior hood for you and me and I thank him for it. Abuse your warriors and accept the consequences. Life and choice have been words contorted by politicians to obfuscate the Truth. You can Life and Choice and they are both good. Don’t fall into the political word trap. You will even deceive yourself. Ignoramus is Latin for “What do we know?” Mitt served as an evangelist in France and as a pastor in Taxachusets and always advised his troubled flock not to have abortions. JJ, you don’t know Mitt. Do your homework.

  • You can have Life and Choice and they are both good.

  • Al K

    Daniel, I didn’t say I “crushed” anyone in a debate. I simply said I debated, w/o mention of “winning” or “losing.” Religion isn’t about winning, it’s about empathy, and learning how to love those who hate us. I’m just a beginner. Please don’t confuse my rejection of history as presented in Mormon texts as a rejection of people.

    If you want to know why Mitt is unpopular with mainline religious voters, I suggest we look no father than “ignoramus” comment above. “Whether Mitt becomes POTUS or not, you will be blessed because you are part of the plan.” Like it or not, when religious people talk of “the plan” it sound cultish. People are justifiably sensitive to tribal language, and especially the history and beliefs that underly such language.

    @daniel “But the fact that numerous educated people subscribe to X goes some CONSIDERABLE distance toward showing that claims like yours are to be taken with a grain (or a ton) of salt.”

    Perhaps, but the UCLA study (along with studies from Rice and Harvard) also shows that a tiny percentage of college professors reject genomic evolution, leaning instead to creationism. Granted, many of those professors teach at seminaries and would lose their job if they came out otherwise. Nevertheless, the point is that there will always be small pockets of belief for just about anything. I would offer that a “vanishing percentage” carries little weight in a religious conversation.

  • David French

    Nate, that’s hilarious. But I have to say that now that you’ve actually talked about “Mormons for Evangelicals for Mitt,” the shadowy conspiracy will have you punished.

  • Shawna Murray M.D.

    Romney was in charge of a highly malevolent state and federal taxpayer funded medical center, UMass Medical Center, in Worcester, MA. The school and hospital has a long history of engaging in repeated acts of fraud as well as criminal assaults on women and patients. Those who complained were retaliated against and often became mentally and physically ill. Some of us lost family members.

    One of the “hit-men” for the violent doctors, Thomas D. Manning, has secured the largest pension in the state of Massachusetts for covering up criminal acts and retaliating against those who refuse to break the law. Manning’s uncle, Rev. Lawrence J. Cronin, brutally abused my sister along with other children, including mentally disabled ones.

    Are these bad acts and bad actors what Christians want to support?

  • DC

    What percentage of our past Presidents in the last several years would have been called Chritstian? All of them? How about our Senators and Congresmen? How about our Judges? Most of them. Look at the mess that we are in because of so called Christian Leadership. Just because someone belongs to a certain “Christian” denomination dosesn’t make them a Christian. All modern denominations are a protestor of the previous church’s ( started against the Catholic church) doctorine. It is still being debated and fragmented today. What happened to “By their fruits you shall know them”? Which is better a Protestant who doesn’t follow “Christian Standards” or a Mormon who does? Maybe it is time to elect a so called “Non Christian” Mormon” and give him a chance to see if he would do any better job than the “Real Christian” leaders have done in the past.

  • Terry

    Al K stated: “I know more about the history of the CJCLDS than most practicing adherents.”

    Al K — I wish I had $____(<—fill in amount here) for every time I've heard or read someone claim to know more about LDS beliefs/doctrine than LDS members themselves do. Like you, I respect someone's right to an opinion, and to express that opinion, but I have to take exception to your comment about not trusting someone to occupy the office of President of the United States just because of what religion they are. That is just plain silly, in my view. Now, if you can point out to me exactly why, despite his obvious leadership qualifications, Mitt Romney's Mormonism disqualifies him as a presidential candidate, I'd be happy to listen (or read, in this case).

    Ball's in your court, sir.

  • Debra Kaye

    Thanks you again, David and Nancy!
    David, I do not know what I would do without you and Nancy and EFM! You have kept me up to date with everything that goes on in the Romney campaign and I spend less time on the web just by reading yours blogs and articles. I laughed when I first read these attach on you and EFM and your response was right on the money. No pun intended. I was one of those fortunate persons that went to the 2010 Southern Republican Leadership Conference per Nancy and your invitation and I was amazed to see all the work that you two did to inform those attending the Conference more about Governor Mitt Romney. I am glad that you are never changing in your views, beliefs, and intelligent perspective of Governor Romney. I know you will endure to the end and maybe, just maybe the majority of USA will come around and decide it might be nice to have a man or morals, integrity and intelligences to be the Commander and Chief.

    With Warm Regards,

  • Lydia Jones

    Thanks for all you done, and are doing to help our Candidate Nancy and David. I guess this ‘hit piece’ makes you officially famous. Congratulations!

  • Jerald

    I just wanted to thank you guys for all of the good work you do for everyone, even Mitt.

    I guess your star is rising when a Time’s reporter that has run out of real ideas figures your a big enough fish to write a “cloak and dagger” story about LOL.

    Good luck to all of you and my the Lord bless you this Christmas season and always.

  • Sorry, Al K, for presuming that you had won those debates. I’m certainly surprised to realize that, at the best, even by your own estimate, you managed merely to hold your own with — and perhaps even lost to — people defending a “bizarre and laughably disprovable myth.”

    It’s rather like hearing that the New York Yankees, in a fiercely fought game, battled an early-teen Little League team from rural Nebraska to a ninth-inning tie, or learning that the Denver Broncos were defeated by a misfit Pop Warner football team from Winnemucca, Nevada.

  • David Walser

    Dr. Murray,

    The center and the school each have their own board of trustees that hires the people managing. The center employees more than 9,000 people. Thomas D. Manning has been the director of the center since 1999 (for those keeping track, this was years before Governor Romney was elected) and plans to retire in 2012. Manning started working for the center in 1978 — two decades before Romney ever ran for office.

    Are you suggesting that the bad acts you allege started as soon as Governor Romney took office and ceased upon his departure? Otherwise, I fail to see how you would think anyone should hold Romney uniquely accountable for the actions of state employees he did not directly supervise. To blame Romney, we’d have to assume Manning was a stellar employee before Romney was elected Governor and that Manning would have remained so but for Romney’s corruptive influence.

    We also have to assume Romney is responsible for Manning’s high pension. How reasonable is it to blame a single governor for the entire cost of Manning’s pension when Manning had a multi-decade career as a state employee? Romney has been out of office for 5 years and Manning is still working for the state. Wouldn’t the current Governor and legislature have more to do with Manning’s pension than a former governor?

  • Craig Finn

    Dr. Murray,

    Based on your anti-semitic comments at this article:
    I think your opinion on ANYTHING is a bit suspect.

  • Joel Cannon

    I scanned the link to try and understand your point – but I see no breakdown by religion – and nothing to back up your 1% Mormon claim. I wonder if you are also exaggerating your credentials…

  • Eichendorff

    *War destroys families and takes life.*

    So does disease, but that doesn’t mean we have to pretend that it is no threat whatsoever and then do nothing about it.

    As long as evil exists, you cannot eliminate the need for good men to oppose it, even to the extreme of war. Imagine if the United States had persisted with the policy of isolationism throughout the 1930s and 1940s and had not entered World War II. The consequences would have been catastrophic beyond comprehension.

    Ron Paul’s views on foreign policy are insane. He is not fit to occupy the office of the Presidency.

  • Eichendorff

    *Fact is I was once physically assalted by an LDS member.*

    The fact is, someone from Seattle was mean to me once about 40 years ago. I guess that disqualifies all people who live in Seattle from the Presidency.

    I’m not actually sure how your statement is of the remotest relevance to the subject of this article.

  • Since American Mormons constitute more than 1% of the U.S. population, and since the LDS Church emphasizes education (even sponsoring its own university system), and since Mormons have been demonstrated in at least two studies to be disproportionately represented among American scientists (sources available upon request), it seems unlikely that Al K’s claim is true that Mormons represent less than 1% of American academics.

  • Nehra

    Sorry, but Romneys were using medical people associated with LDS Social Services to batter and cover-up. In the Romney’s family case they have used professionals to abuse.

  • Eichendorff

    That is a bloody lie and you know it.

  • Eichendorff

    I have dealt with LDS Social Services before. Never have I met a more professional and caring group of people in my life. The standards they adhere to are worldwide and are strictly enforced. You are a disgusting liar.

  • The real Mitt Romney the Weather-vane candidate

    It is the truth and I know it. It will not help trying to say the truth is a lie, because it is all going to come back and bite every single involved abuser.

  • @Eichendorff – your statement is simply not true.

  • The French’s association does appear to be too close with Mitt. As far as a ‘hit’ the French’s are the last to talk.

  • Eichendorff

    My statement is absolutely true. I experienced it myself. You, on the other hand, are a bloody liar.

  • Eichendorff

    My wife and I dealt with LDS Social Services during a period in our lives in which we were foster parents for newborn babies being placed for adoption. I do not believe that any human being has the capability of exhibiting more care and compassion toward us and especially the birth mother than the LDS Social Services people we dealt with. They comported themselves with the utmost professionalism. I know others who have had the same experience.

  • David: Did the reporter interview you, or did he just rely on googling and guessing (which are at time indistinguishable)? If so, then he’s not a reporter.

  • David French

    He briefly interviewed Nancy (asked a few questions at the end of what seemed like a rather innocuous interview about why evangelicals should support Mitt), but he didn’t try to get in touch with me and didn’t contact me after I sent him an email saying that I was happy to talk to him. This looks a lot like the product of a couple Google searches.

  • Eichendorff

    I think the ease of google searches has made far too many journalists lazy and sloppy. I suspect laziness and sloppiness in journalism existed before the Internet, but being able to google for information doesn’t necessarily improve the end product.

  • Debbie

    LDS Social Services covers up child sexual assault, including members of their own staff.