Federal Politics

Published — September 23, 2015 Updated — October 21, 2015 at 3:11 pm ET

Catholic super PAC bides time as Pope Francis visits Washington

Pope Francis talks with President Barack Obama, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, after arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Sept. 22, 2015. The Pope is spending three days in Washington, D.C., before heading to New York and Philadelphia. This is the Pope's first visit to the United States. Susan Walsh/AP

Group will wait to raise and spend big money ahead of 2016 election

Introduction

Pope Francis’s first visit to the United States has already ignited political passions in the nation’s capital.

But the nation’s most prominent Catholic super PAC is keeping a decidedly low profile as the pontiff visits the White House on Wednesday and U.S. Capitol on Thursday.

Officials with CatholicVote.org Candidate Fund, a super PAC affiliated with Chicago-based nonprofit group CatholicVote.org, say they’re waiting until the 2016 election season is further along before they actively raise and spend money.

When CatholicVote.org Candidate Fund does spool up its 2016 efforts, Republicans are almost certain to earn the support of the super PAC.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are not suitable candidates for Catholic voters given their stances on abortion, said Josh Mercer, political director of CatholicVote.org.

Vice President Joe Biden — a devout Catholic and potential candidate — won’t receive an endorsement from CatholicVote.org, either, Mercer said.

“It’s one thing for a candidate to support abortion,” Mercer said. “But it’s another thing when they claim to speak for Catholics.”

Biden recently spoke with “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert about maintaining his Catholic faith following the death of his son Beau Biden.

Which GOP presidential candidate will the super PAC support? CatholicVote.org Candidate Fund hasn’t yet decided, Mercer said.

Mercer said abortion and religious freedom are issues CatholicVote.org will focus on ahead of 2016, and that the super PAC, which formed in 2011 and may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, will not be used exclusively in the presidential race.

“There are very big state races that are just as important,” Mercer said. “The goal is also to put the Senate in pro-life hands.”

Although a notable political player, this group of lay-led Catholics isn’t the only voice in the 2016 choir.

The presidential election alone is already rife with religious undertones, as evident during the Sept. 16 Republican presidential debate, where candidates faced off on the right of Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky, to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses on the basis of her religious beliefs.

Two pro-Bobby Jindal operations — the American Future Project and Believe Again — put religious freedom front and center of their ads. Believe Again, a super PAC, spent $293,000 this week on ads in which Jindal, Louisiana’s governor, tells the story of his religious conversion from Hinduism to Christianity.

Meanwhile Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign has asked supporters to “sacrifice” money to his campaign. He’s also released ads that draw on his faith.

Ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, D.C., groups closely connected to the Catholic church have also been lobbying Congress on a variety of policy issues.

The National Republican Campaign Committee also endeavored to build its supporter list by urging people to “sign” an electronic card welcoming Pope Francis.

Though CatholicVote.org touts its nonpartisanship, the super PAC has previously made sizable expenditures in support of Republicans.

The super PAC raised $476,000 during 2012, spending more than half of that money on messages that either supported Republican Mitt Romney’s failed presidential run or criticized President Barack Obama.

More recently, the super PAC spent a more modest $6,000 in 2014 to boost four congressional Republican candidates, including Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W. Va.

The super PAC also supported three failed Republican campaigns: Kirk Jorgensen of California, Jim Tracy of Tennessee and Francisco “Quico” Canseco of Texas.

It had about $99,000 left in its coffer as of June 30, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Ads sponsored by CatholicVote.org in 2012 focused on issues as well as political candidates.

One ad — it criticized Obamacare for requiring employers to cover contraceptives in company healthcare — features Michigan businessman John C. Kennedy, chief executive officer and president of Autocam Corp.

Kennedy contributed $200,000 to the super PAC in 2012, the year he successfully sued the U.S. government in 2012 over the same birth control provision.

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