The American Israel Public Affairs Committee spent $87,899,089 on advocacy in 2008 — significantly more than any of 212 other religion-related advocacy organizations examined by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. AIPAC’s expenditures amounted to more than three times that of the next highest-spending organization, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Conference of Bishops spent $26,662,111 in 2009, according to the most recently-available data on the subject.

Forty groups (about one-third of the 131 groups for which data was available) accounted for more than $330 million of the $390 million in total reported advocacy expenditures. The top 10 groups each had expenditures of $9 million or more, and collectively accounted for more than $200 million of advocacy spending.

Among the 40 biggest annual spenders from 2008 to 2009, 14 are interreligious, six are Jewish, six are Evangelical Protestant, five are Catholic, four are mainline Protestant, two are Muslim, one is Quaker, one is Buddhist and one is Unitarian Universalist. Of the top 40 advocacy spenders, 23 represent individuals, while seven represent religious bodies.

Advocacy groups report their spending in many different ways. While some groups break out their advocacy and lobbying expenditures, many do not. In addition, many groups report expenses only for direct lobbying as strictly defined by the Internal Revenue Service. Direct lobbying is defined as attempts to influence, or urge the public to influence, specific legislation, whether the legislation is before a legislative body, such as the U.S. Congress or any state legislature, or before the public as a referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment or similar measure. As noted earlier, this study defines advocacy more broadly, encompassing a wide range of efforts to shape and influence public policy on religion-related issues. (See “What Is Religious Advocacy?“) As a corollary, the study attempts to use the expenditure figures that best reflect the broader definition of religious advocacy used in the report rather than the narrower definition used by the IRS. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.