ALERT: MD Catholic Conference's Dick Dowling Exposed
- from the glccb list:
The following article from today's Baltimore Sun details Maryland
Catholic Conference Lobbyist Dick Dowling's efforts to kill the
Antidiscrimination Act of 2001, a bill that would ban discrimination
based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public
Take two easy steps to combat Dick Dowling!
#1. Call the Maryland Catholic Conference at 410-269-1155 or fax
410-269-1790 and tell the Conference that you object to the Dick
Dowling's work against the Antidiscrimination Act. If you are
Catholic, don't forget to tell the Conference what your parish is and
remind the Conference that your weekly tithe pays for Dowling's work.
#2. Call Senators Leo Green, Phil Jimeno and Mike Miller and tell
them to base a decision about the Antidiscrimination Act on public
policy and their roles as State Senators, not as Catholics or
Senator Leo Green 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3631 (toll free)
Senator Phil Jimeno 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3658 (toll free)
Senator Mike Miller 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3700 (toll free)
For additional contact information, see
#1. The Antidiscrimination Act is supported by a majority of
Marylanders. Poll numbers range from 60 to 75 percent for Maryland.
#2. The Antidiscrimination Act will not burden religious
organizations because they are exempted from the bill.
Thank you for taking action against one of the chief obstacles to
obtaining the equal rights to which we are entitled!
Lobbyist offers religious viewpoint
Catholic Conference in the front row of legislative struggles
By Jeff Barker and Sarah Koenig
Originally published Feb 1 2001
The 600 lobbyists in Annapolis all have bosses, but the Maryland
Catholic Conference claims to answer to a higher authority. That
could explain why some people find its role mysterious.
Is its executive director - the angular, imposing Richard J. Dowling
- a member of the clergy? Even after his 17 years of service, some
General Assembly members aren't sure; he occasionally gets notes
addressed to "Father Dowling."
In fact, Dowling, 60, is not a priest but a lobbyist - and one of the
most knowledgeable in the State House. Some adversaries consider him
as formidable a foe as any they've faced in the capital.
As a result, the conference is expected to play an influential role
in determining the outcome of some of the highest-profile legislation
of the Assembly session.
This includes Gov. Parris N. Glendening's gay rights bill, which the
conference opposes; a conference-backed bill to abolish the death
penalty; and a proposal to provide more textbook funding to parochial
and other private schools.
In all of these issues, Dowling says his goal is the same: to get
lawmakers to recognize the link between their faith and their jobs.
To this end, he can exert a subtle yet powerful pressure - and he's
not above tapping into "Catholic guilt."
While he lobbies Catholics and non-Catholics alike, "We're not going
to ease up in our presentations to a Catholic legislator just because
they're Catholic. If Catholic guilt operates in this situation, we're
going to allow that to happen."
But sometimes Dowling's approach doesn't work.
Del. Anne Healey, a Prince George's Democrat and a Catholic, has
debated the textbook subsidy with the conference more than once.
"They come in and say, 'You're Catholic. Your kids go to Catholic
school. You should support the bill.' I tell them it's not going to
be that way. I have a responsibility to make sure the public schools
are getting what they need," she said.
During last year's debate over the same issue, the Catholic lobby
sent a priest and a Catholic school principal from the parish of Sen.
Philip C. Jimeno, an Anne Arundel Democrat, to visit with him.
Jimeno, who is Catholic, resisted their appeals but says the pressure
helped make it one of the toughest votes of his career.
On the governor's anti-discrimination bill, Sen. Leo E. Green, a
Prince George's Democrat, bristled when asked if he would be
influenced by the conference's position.
"I will make my decision as a state senator," he said. "Not as a
Catholic, not as a Christian. I will look at the facts, as is my
The mixing of politics and religion can be confusing, not least for
lawmakers. While Dowling might operate much like any other lobbyist,
he is surely the only one fielding requests for marriage counseling
and help coping with illness.
Mindful that Catholic lawmakers see him as a link to their church, he
tries to respond to such personal requests.
The conference is a big enough player that advocates of the gay-
rights bill have been quietly reaching out to Dowling. The measure
would add homosexuals to the list of groups protected by Maryland law
prohibiting discrimination in housing and employment.
The conference opposes the bill on grounds that, while it abhors
prejudice, it cannot condone sex outside marriage. Dowling says
blocking the bill is not the conference's top priority.
But proof of the conference's influence - real or perceived - is that
those pushing for the bill consider Dowling a principal adversary.
"Dick Dowling has an incredible power, especially over the Catholic
members of the General Assembly," said Shannon Avery of the Gay and
Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore. "He's been working very hard
behind the scenes to get this bill killed."
The governor's office and gay-rights groups believe the conference,
if it adopted a neutral stance, could help shift the positions of
Catholic swing voters in the Senate who have opposed the bill in the
In a case of lobbyists lobbying lobbyists, gay-rights groups have
been working with Dowling to see if his problems with the bill can be
Glendening's office, too, invited the conference to recommend a
member to serve on a commission that held hearings last year
soliciting public testimony about discrimination against gays,
lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals. But Dowling declined; he knew
any church-affiliated member would be in the "absolute minority," he
said. "We've tried to work it very privately."
The Maryland Catholic Conference is the public policy arm of the
three Roman Catholic regions serving Maryland - the archdioceses of
Washington and Baltimore and the diocese of Wilmington, Del. It is
nonpartisan and, unlike other lobbying groups, does not give money to
political campaigns, attend fund-raisers or take legislative
committees out to dinner.
The conference's annual budget of $530,000 comes out of the
collection plates at churches and pays for a staff of six, as well as
rent for offices in a well-worn, three-story house a few blocks from
the State House. Maryland Right to Life occupies a small office on
the top floor.
Of all the religious groups lobbying the General Assembly, the
conference is the most active - not surprising, considering
Maryland's deep Catholic roots. The governor, lieutenant governor,
Senate president and House speaker are Catholics, as are about 37
percent of the 188 legislators.
The conference says it took particular interest in about 170 of the
2,386 measures considered by state lawmakers last year and took
positions on about half. The list of topics included abortion and
assisted suicide, which it opposes, and an aid program for the
elderly, which it backed. Dowling says much of his time is spent as
an advocate for the poor.
Dowling has been the face of the conference in the General Assembly
for 17 years. He knows every legislator - and at 6 feet, 6 inches
tall, with bushy salt-and-pepper eyebrows and a basso voice, he is
instantly noticeable in the State House halls.
"He's very tough, which means he's very good," said David Conn, a
lobbyist for Maryland Jewish Alliance, which has worked both with and
against the conference. "And he has a commanding presence."
Last week, angered by the League of Women Voters' opposition to the
governor's proposed $8 million textbook subsidy to private schools,
Dowling said, "The women's voter league, or whatever they're called
... their priorities are screwed up big-time." During a House hearing
on the textbook program, he accused some opponents of having an ax to
grind against religious schools and called their motives "untoward."
This session, the conference's biggest uphill battle is its goal of
abolishing the death penalty. As he and other conference
representatives lobby resistant Catholic legislators, Dowling remains
"There's not any snowball's chance in hell that it'll pass the
legislature," he said of the death penalty bill. "But it's time to
talk about the issue."
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