For over ten years, records show the Church of Scientology has had one man lobbying Congress on its behalf.
According to House of Representatives and US Senate disclosure reports, the controversial religious group has paid over $US1 million to Greg Mitchell to lead its lobbying efforts since 2003. No other lobbyist has reported working for the church during this period.
A spokesperson for the Church said Mitchell’s lobbying work is “aligned to our broad humanitarian social initiatives.” In his disclosure reports, Mitchell provided extensive details about his lobbying for Scientology. These records show he has focused on several areas for the church — pursuing federal funding for Scientology’s educational programs and disaster relief efforts, promoting efforts to help prisoners re-enter society, working to promote programs to help religious workers immigrate to the US, and working to make “international religious freedom” a priority for the government.
In a conversation with Business insider on Wednesday, Mitchell said his work on “religious freedom” is currently the main focus of his lobbying for the church. This work often involves working with other religious organisations to encourage the US to put pressure on foreign countries that are persecuting religious groups.
“The US government … they already do raise these issues with all these countries,” Mitchell said. “So, I work with like all the different faiths in order to keep working with the US government to get them to make it a higher priority.”
Mitchell said his efforts to pursue federal funding were limited to a few specific instances. He characterised his work on immigration issues as a “secondary thing” and said his work on prisoner re-entry mostly occurred during the early period he lobbied on Scientology’s behalf. Mitchell explained that his efforts to promote prisoner re-entry were conducted in conjunction with Scientology’s rehabilitation programs for criminals and drug abusers, Narconon and Criminon.
Mitchell is the founder and chief executive officer of The Mitchell Firm. He is a member of the church and has been lobbying on its behalf since 2003.
“I have friends who are in it and they’re the ones who really introduced me to it,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the church approached him to lead its lobbying efforts because of his personal belief in Scientology programs.
“That’s really why they asked me to represent them. I did it because I believe in the programs,” said Mitchell.
Along with support for “their reform programs like Criminon,” Mitchell said he appreciates the way Scientology works with and for other groups to support religious freedom internationally. He characterised this as a “multi faith approach.”
Mitchell entered the political arena as a college senior in California where he worked for former Rep. Carlos Moorhead (R-California) beginning as an intern. He went on to serve as chief of staff for former Rep. James Rogan (R-California), both when Rogan led the California State Assembly and during his time in Congress. Mitchell began working as a campaign consultant in 2000 and started his firm in 2003.
His company site features pictures of Mitchell posing with politicians including former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Clinton. It also touts his “political instincts gained from vast experience organising grassroots efforts, managing successful political campaigns, and getting bipartisan legislation passed and signed into law.”
Along with the Church of Scientology, Mitchell has represented other clients including the American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and the Open Society Policy Center. He said his work with these other groups has also focused on prison reform and religious freedom.
Scientology has been in the spotlight in recent weeks following the release of the HBO documentary “Going Clear” last month. The detailed various allegations that have been leveled against the church by critics including that it bilks followers out of money and has subjected them to physical abuse. Scientology has issued extensive and detailed rebuttals denying many of the claims made in “Going Clear.”
One critic who appeared in “Going Clear” is Mike Rinder, a former high-ranking Scientology executive who left the church in 2007. The church has also released lengthy statements questioning Rinder’s motives and credibility. In a conversation with Business Insider, Rinder said that he was “not familiar” with Mitchell.
“Back in my day, the lobbying in Washington was really done through Hill & Knowlton,” Rinder said.
However, Rinder said foreign religious persecution was still the main focus of the church’s lobbying efforts before Mitchell began leading the operation. He connected this to what he described as the church’s belief its members were being mistreated in foreign countries where it has expanded over the years.
“What they primarily were dealing with was human rights violations, the persecution of Scientologists in Germany and France, or trying to get the State Department in the US to act to curtail what the church believed were abuses of its parishioners in those foreign countries,” Rinder explained.
According to Bloomberg, Hill & Knowlton “resigned the Church of Scientology account” in 1991 after some of the company’s clients in the pharmaceutical industry complained due to the religion’s efforts campaigns against psychiatric drugs.
Mitchell’s work for the church has included lobbying members of Congress and President Barack Obama’s White House transition team. According to Mitchell, officials in Washington have largely been “accepting” of him as he has represented Scientology in spite of the fact the church has been controversial. He attributed this to the fact many of Scientology’s lobbying efforts have been conducted in conjunction with other religious groups.
“They’re accepting because it’s really about the issues and not the client. I do issue and cause-based lobbying. And all the issues I work on are issues that they are interested in also,” Mitchell said of the officials he has encountered while working for Scientology, adding, “I do a lot of my lobbying in coalitions. … When I did meetings with the Obama transition team, I was there shoulder-to-shoulder with representatives of other faiths.”
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