Two Christian Coalitions -- Better Than One?

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The power to tax is the power to destroy, says the cliché. An exaggeration, to be sure, but having to pay taxes does sometimes force you to do things differently. And so it now is for the Christian Coalition, the once mighty ultraconservative rallying engine behind Republican electoral successes, which recently learned that its long-sought wish to become a tax-exempt organization has been denied by the IRS. The refusal, apparently based on the groupís involvement in politics -- a no-no for tax-exempt organizations -- prompted its founder and president, Pat Robertson, to begin splitting the organization into two: the taxable Christian Coalition International, for political activities, and the tax-exempt Christian Coalition of America, for voter education.

There is a risk in the organizational split: It could further dilute the waning influence of the coalition, which has been feeling the pain of an internal political split. "The group has been in a tailspin for some time," says TIME congressional correspondent John Dickerson, "in large measure because of a conflict between those who want to do what you to need to do to succeed in politics and absolutist activists" who refuse to compromise. The coalitionís backing of Bush and Dole in the 1988 and 1992 presidential elections helped bring that conflict to the surface. "Many activists thought Bush and Dole were too squishy," says Dickerson. "In addition, other activists thought the group should have focused more on local politics, where true believers are most passionate about changing the policies of local school boards." Robertson hopes the new reorganization will in fact help turn all this around. But he has much work to do: In the last two years several key officials have left or been let go.