Members of Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign staff have taken a number of fringe positions, including campaigning against LGBT rights, supporting the elimination of public schools and characterizing Mormons as non-Christians.
Democracy in Action tracks the campaign organization for presidential candidates and reveals a formidable number of campaign surrogates and field directors in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire.
Sheri Few is Bachmann’s campaign director in South Carolina, and she’s no stranger to running for office; she’s tried three times for the South Carolina General Assembly. In 2008, her campaign literature said, “God has been preparing her to become a public servant for as long as she can remember.” That echoes Bachmann’s own assertions that God told her to run for Congress.
The Columbia Free Times reported in late August that Sheri Few runs an anti-gay, abstinence-only until marriage organization that took in $2.2 million in federal funds between 2005 and 2007.
That organization, South Carolina Parents Involved in Education (SCPIE), has been a very controversial one. It opposes Gay-Straight Alliances, safe-schools efforts and diversity training in schools. “The influence of homosexual activists within the nation’s educational system continues to grow, altering the attitudes of children and teens toward the acceptance of a unhealthy lifestyle,” the group wrote in 2008.
Few wrote in 2008, “I, for one, am glad that our state legislature has already safeguarded our children from the discussion of a lifestyle that is neither healthy nor normal. It is bad enough that we have to shelter our children from the borage [sic] of television shows that treats homosexuality as though it were just another choice among the smorgasbord of immoral behaviors networks portray as commonplace with no undesirable consequences.”
But perhaps Few’s group’s biggest issue is abstinence-only until marriage. SCPIE took in $2,231,529 under the federal Community Based Abstinence Eduction Project. The group also receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from South Carolina for its abstinence programming, and has gotten money from the Institute for Youth Development through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create an abstinence toolkit.
Aside from Few’s founding of a federally-funded organization, she’s also worked as the Marriage Project Coordinator for the Palmetto Family Council, which has received federal funds for marriage programming.
Few has defended her new boss, Bachmann, in light of the candidate’s lagging poll numbers in the race.
“My opinion of the campaign is, it’s very strong and we’ll continue to gain momentum going into these debates,” she told the New York Times. “That’s a format at which Mrs. Bachmann truly shines. What we’ll see in the coming weeks will bring her back to where she was before.’’
One of Bachmann’s field directors in southeast Iowa, Emma Nemecek, came under criticism in 2007 when she was a field director for then-candidate Sam Brownback. Nemecek forwarded an email that attacked Brownback’s GOP rival for president Mitt Romney for being Mormon. The email said, in part, “Theologically, the only thing Christianity and the LDS (Later Day Saints) church has in common is the name of Jesus Christ, and the LDS Jesus is not the same Jesus of the Christian faith.”
Nemecek said at the time that forwarding the email was an honest mistake. She was reprimanded by the Brownback campaign.
But, Nemecek isn’t the only one working for Bachmann in Iowa who has had strong words about Mormons. Barbara Heki is in charge of organizing coalitions for the Bachmann campaign.
She worked with Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign in 2007 and once told the New York Times, “Mormons spend two years of their lives as missionaries, preaching an anti-Christian doctrine. I don’t want someone out there, if I can help it, who’s going to be acting on an anti-Christian faith as the basis of their decision-making.”
Heki is a member of the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, a home-school activist group.
“Instead of looking at who’s electable, I’m looking at who’s the best person,” Heki told the Financial Times earlier this year. “From a theological perspective, biblically, God puts leaders in place and my role is to look for the most righteous leaders—to be a light by supporting them and then let God work through that.”
The Times notes that Heki opposes public schools and opposes abortion in all circumstances including cases of rape or incest.
Heki was paid by the American Family Association, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled an anti-gay hate group, during the campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled that the Iowa Constitution allows for same-sex marriage. Two other current Bachmann staffers worked on same campaign, Iowa for Freedom, against marriage equality.
Drew Klein is a field organizer for Bachmann. He recently stepped down as the director of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, which is the brainchild of former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed.
Bachmann’s Iowa political director, Wes Enos, also worked for Iowa for Freedom. In a radio interview earlier this year, Enos called for the removal of the remaining justices and insinuated that they were enemies of God.
Perhaps the most controversial is Bachmann’s director of faith outreach in Iowa, Peter Waldron. Waldron was arrested in Uganda in 2006 on terrorism charges after authorities allegedly found guns and ammunition in his suburban Kampala home. Reports conflict on what exactly transpired there, but some say Waldron was attempting to collect a bounty on a militia leader, while other media reports claim he was attempting to set up a political party based on Christian values.
He’s founded of a number of organizations including Advancing American Freedom, Christians Restoring America’s Greatness (founder and president), Cities of Faith Ministries, the Contact America Group, Inc., and The Save The Family Foundation.
Waldron is a devout Christian and has worked with leaders in the Reconstructionist movement, a movement that advocates a Christian-centered government. He co-wrote a book called, “Rebuilding the Walls: A Biblical Strategy for Restoring America’s Greatness.”
He spent 37 days in Uganda prison before being released. The method of his release is also prone to conflicting reports. Waldron has insinuated that President Bush intervened on his behalf, but other media reports suggest that Ugandan officials didn’t have much of a case and lost interest in pursuing it.
He’s got a movie coming out about his ordeal in Uganda which may shed light on his side of the story, but Waldron himself has avoided any contact with the press since revelations of the terrorism charges and his connection to the Bachmann campaign were revealed in late-August. And much of his past history has been scrubbed from the internet.
He’s outlined his strategy for reaching evangelical voters. One component is prayer:
The candidate needs prayer and must develop a prayer network in each state. The prayer network secures the candidate’s position as a “legitimate” Evangelical and a member of the faith-based community. All people of faith respect prayer and its supernatural power. Everyone can pray and each person must feel a part of the candidate’s effort to receive the nomination. Prayer does not require money, fame, and position of influence or power to achieve a sense of importance.
Bachmann’s campaign released a statement praising Waldron’s efforts on behalf of the campaign. “Michele’s faith is an important part of her life and Peter did a tremendous job with our faith outreach in Iowa. We are fortunate to have him on our team and look forward to having him expanding his efforts in several states.”
Waldron is currently working in South Carolina on behalf of the campaign, according to a Facebook posting which Waldron recently took down.