Sticking With Tradition
|New York-based Russ Baker is an award-winning
journalist who covers politics and
All right now, who's for "traditional values?"
Perhaps you've caught the huge tussle over a new initiative by
the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), which has issued a
high-profile demand that the federal government explain who
authorized a host of research studies on health and sexuality—which
TVC calls "smarmy projects."
The executive director of TVC told The Washington Post,
"We have nameless, faceless bureaucrats doling out money like a
federal ATM to do things like study the sex habits of Mexicans
before and after they cross over the border. This doesn't pass the
straight-face test." Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), responded by
calling the coalition's tactics "scientific McCarthyism," and
demanding that Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson
stand up to TVC and support the National Institutes of Health (NIH),
whose grants, which look at things like behaviors that spread
sexually transmitted diseases, are determined by scientific
The funding debate, which has generated heavy media coverage in
recent days, is only the latest in a long string of publicity coups
for TVC. Among its campaigns that resulted in a torrent of coverage
were recent television ads accusing then-California gubernatorial
candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger of being soft on gay rights and
While most other "conservative" groups have shown some reserve in
dealing with issues involving gay Americans, TVC has shamelessly
exploited homophobia for years. The only slightly disguised "we hate
gays" message has been a key factor in TVC's success.
The problem with names like "Traditional Values Coalition" is
that they almost never involve truth in advertising. What few media
organizations bother to ask, right from the outset, is who these
groups actually are, and whether anything they say deserves the
credibility of a spotlight at all.
The Post described the Orange County, California-based
group as "a public policy organization that says it has more than
43,000 member churches." While the TVC is nominally a coalition, and
can claim, superficially, to represent many churches, it is actually
an umbrella for a variety of initiatives and affiliated groups that
personally benefit the family of TVC's ethically-challenged founder
and chairman, the Rev. Lou Sheldon.
Sheldon's TVC publicly campaigned against "card clubs" seeking
approval in five cities, without revealing that his own son Steve
was being paid $156,000 to rally churches against card clubs by
competing gaming interests that wanted the field to themselves. This
was discovered by investigators for California's Fair Political
Practices Commission. Sheldon himself received a $10,000 consulting
fee from a coalition funded largely by Nevada casinos.
Sheldon also committed a biblical-strength sin, betraying one of
his own constituent ministers. The Reverend Steve Anderson, at the
time a TVC board member, was engaged in exposing dubious contracting
practices by a powerful California waste company, Taormina
Industries, in his hometown of Colton, California. Unbeknownst to
Rev. Anderson, while Sheldon was providing him with "guidance" in
his struggle against Taormina (which had launched a vicious campaign
to silence Anderson), Sheldon was quietly accepting money and
computing resources from Taormina's owner—and adding him to TVC's
own board. (You can read the full story of Anderson's battle with
"The whole Sheldon family is using TVC as a sham ministry,"
Anderson says. "They claim to represent thousands of churches, but,
from being in good standing on the inside from 1994 to 1996, I can
say it's a lie. Lou has switched to lobbying politicians and groups
instead of ministering in actual churches. He's a lobbyist among
politicians, yet claims to be a minister of the Gospel. Lou's latest
sham is to be leading the war against homosexuals, in light of the
recent Supremes decision. Follow the money. It's not from mainstream
churches backing him. Just hatemongers!"
Indeed, wherever temptation is, this minister isn't far away.
While much of the Religious Right was holding its noses over the
sleazy content emanating from the Fox Network, Sheldon lined up
support from the National Religious Broadcasters to help Fox owner
Rupert Murdoch block a telecommunications merger he opposed.
With his checkered activities starting to draw fire from
opponents, Sheldon has gradually eased out of the spotlight. Today,
his daughter, Andrea Sheldon-Lafferty, is the figurehead leader and
spokesperson (she's the one cited in most recent articles about the
NIH flap) and Sheldon's sons run businesses that benefit directly
from TVC's "nonprofit" activities, such as Phil Sheldon's ConservativePetitions.com.
The Sheldon clan's latest entrepreneurial foray is a "Christian
alternative" to the AARP (formerly known as the American Association
of Retired Persons). For dues of $12.95 a year, members are promised
"benefits that are as good, or better, than AARP's." AARP, looking
into this development, learned that mailings for Sheldon's
"Christian Seniors" were crafted by the famed rightwing direct-mail
entrepreneur Richard A. Viguerie, who's been instrumental in the
creation of several other such "seniors" groups aimed at weakening
the political clout that AARP wields on behalf of older Americans.
AARP's publication, AARP Bulletin, confirmed that the
Traditional Values Coalition ran operating deficits of more than $1
million in both 2000 and 2001—while paying a handsome salary to his
daughter for part-time work and one son for consulting. From that,
one might conclude that the traditional values crowd is getting
taken, and that the Traditional Values First Family itself believes
in one traditional value—the value of a greenback.
In any case, doesn't all of this deserve a little more attention
from the national media, which is only too happy to publicize TVC in
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Published: Nov 25 2003