In a recent Newsweek online article, chief political correspondent Howard Fineman repeated a myth about Focus on the Family founder and chairman James Dobson: "He is plunging into politics headlong," Fineman wrote, "after a lifetime of staying away from it."
The assertion that Dobson has stayed out of politics until recently is often repeated though manifestly false. Dobson's involvement in policy and elections goes back many years.
In 1983, Dobson founded the Washington-based Family Research Council to lobby Congress and the executive branch, and to act as a political advocate for conservative Christian causes. A decade later, Dobson was one of the founders of Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal organization pressing conservative causes through the courts. Dobson has weighed in publicly not only on high-profile issues such as abortion, but on more esoteric matters as well; for instance, in 1988, he and other conservative activists urged President Reagan to veto a bill supporting the Legal Services Corporation, which funds public defenders, unless funding for the organization was slashed. Dobson also has hosted many Republican politicians on his radio show.
Though Focus on the Family is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, its heavy involvement in policy and political issues is obvious from its website, which loudly denounces "judicial tyranny" and stem cell research, while advocating state and federal constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. Focus on the Family also has 34 affiliated "state councils," which conduct similar advocacy on the state level.
Dobson has issued several warnings to the Republican Party to cater to evangelical voters or risk losing their support; in 1995, he wrote a letter to the then-chairman of the Republican Party, Haley Barbour, saying in part, "Remember, 43 percent of your voters last November came from evangelical Christians. ...Losing only 5 percent of them could prove fatal in 1996" [Kansas City Star, 5/16/95].
In 2004, Dobson formed Focus on the Family Action, a 501(c)4 organization dedicated to advancing conservative political causes and candidates. Though his energetic work for President Bush's re-election may have marked the first time he formally endorsed a presidential candidate, Dobson's involvement in politics goes back more than two decades.
Fineman also portrays Dobson as a friendly fellow, who, despite being "venomous on the topic of the federal judiciary," nonetheless "wants to be on decent terms with -- or at least win a modicum of respect from -- the likes of [radio hosts Don] Imus and [Al] Franken." While it appears true that Dobson directs some of his most venomous attacks at those he perceives as his enemies on the topic of the federal judiciary -- as when he referred to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) as "a 'God's people' hater" and compared the Supreme Court to the Ku Klux Klan -- he has also gone after someone who, to Media Matters for America's knowledge, has no opinion on judicial filibusters and has not had an unkind word to say about anyone: SpongeBob SquarePants.