'Big Brother' Watching Catholic Bishops, Pro-Lifers

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - "Shocked but not surprised" was the reaction of Catholic and other pro-life groups to recent reports that the Clinton Administration is compiling files on the fund-raising, membership and attitude toward violence of family groups around the country.

Documents obtained by the legal watchdog group Judicial Watch justify "intrusive investigative activity" by federal agencies that allow them to infiltrate and investigate groups as divergent as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Rifle Association and Concerned Women for America.

However, groups targeted by the administration said that, given President Clinton's stand on abortion, they were not surprised he would allow surveillance of their activities.

"The surprise would be if they didn't regard such people as the enemy," said Bill Donohue, president of the New York-based Catholic League, a staunch pro-life group.

"There's no question that the pro-life community is the enemy as far as the Clinton Administration is concerned," he said. "Why would it be such a leap to conclude he wouldn't have people investigating these groups?"

Documents obtained by Judicial Watch under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that federal investigators, including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, are keeping tabs not just on suspected criminal activities by some anti-abortion groups but on the lobbying efforts of some of the best-known groups in the country.

The secret program, known as "Violence Against Abortion Providers," or "VAAP," documented information on pro-life groups dating as far back as the mid-1990s. Under "Profiles of Pro-Life Groups," it described the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example, as one of the most powerful of the pro-life groups that opposed violence and the [1994] Clinic Access Bill pending in Congress.

VAAP also provided detailed information on membership and grass-roots support that alarms legal analysts.

"The investigation of abortion clinic violence was a cover for them to go after pro-life leaders and religious leaders who obviously had no connection to this," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. "It was political, and some in the FBI objected to it, but they were overruled by the upper reaches of the Justice Department."

Family groups also were concerned that this official surveillance, coupled with recent legislation that would compel special interest groups to reveal sources of their donations, could spell trouble for non-profit groups.

"The fact that the FBI has been investigating groups purely because of their opinion, not because of their activities, is the very reason why there should be concern over non-profit groups being forced to reveal proprietary information," said Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America, one of the pro-life organizations that came under scrutiny by VAAP.

"This information could be used by the government to intimidate supporters of organizations that government officials don't approve of," she said.

Wright said CWA was concerned about a bill signed last week by President Clinton that would restrict campaign contributions. The law closes a loophole that allowed some tax-exempt, politically motivated groups to influence elections and policy actions without disclosing where the funds came from to pay for it.

Both the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to plug a loophole in election laws that allows so-called "527 groups" - named for the section of the Internal Revenue Code which provides tax exempt status for political groups - to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money without disclosure as long as they do not campaign on behalf of or against a specific candidate.

Now these special interest groups will have to "come clean about their donors," Clinton said.

"It's a frightening proposition that the government can demand access to donors of non-profit groups, groups that government officials may want to target for intimidation or harassment," Wright said.