To stymie political group, opponents seize its name

Conservative Republicans acquire rights to call themselves Mainstream Coalition

? After a decade of frustration, John Altevogt and several fellow conservative Republicans saw a way to get back at a group they’d battled regularly. They took the group’s name.

Their target was the Mainstream Coalition, a Prairie Village nonprofit with the stated goal of keeping church and state separate. It has been in an ideological brawl with conservatives over issues such as abortion and gay rights.

The name now belongs to a corporation Altevogt helped form earlier this year, and he says the nonprofit group increases its legal risk every time it uses the name publicly, as it still does. He says his corporation is likely to sue.

While the nonprofit and its allies see grabbing its name as political prank — and some conservatives find it amusing as well — Altevogt said his goal was a serious one. He calls the Mainstream Coalition a hate group akin to the Ku Klux Klan.

“I’m going to do everything I can to put this group out of business and have it recognized for what it is,” he said during a recent interview.

Caroline McKnight, the group’s executive director, said its activities were continuing as planned. As for the dispute, she said, “There’s seemingly no limit to some of the idiocy.”

McKnight’s Mainstream Coalition — now legally named the Moderate Alliance of Informed Neighbors Coalition Inc. — was formed in 1993 by Johnson County residents upset with the growing influence of social conservatives in the state Republican Party.

This summer, her group began sending volunteers into Kansas City-area churches to monitor whether they and their pastors complied with federal guidelines limiting political activities by nonprofit groups.

Altevogt said he would like to see his Mainstream Coalition encourage pastors, churches and others to become involved in politics and help them understand what federal guidelines allow. His corporation hasn’t acted because McKnight’s group continues to use the name, he said.

Altevogt said the real goal of McKnight’s group was to stifle political activity. He said the group attacked evangelical Christians, making it a hate group.

Less conservative Republicans dismiss such statements from Altevogt, an Edwardsville real estate broker whose prominence among fellow conservatives rose as their influence grew within the party.

McKnight said Altevogt’s comments were “laughable” and not worthy of a response.

“Anybody who is not a right-wing radical, John Altevogt doesn’t think is a good person,” said Steve Cloud, a former Kansas House member who serves on the Republican National Committee and tangles with conservatives regularly.

Altevogt and two other activists, Dwight Sutherland Jr., of Mission Hills, and Tim Golba, of Olathe, formed their Mainstream Coalition Inc. in February, paying $40 to incorporate. They had paid $35 to reserve the name four months before.

Records show McKnight’s group lost its claim to the name in September 2003 by failing to file an annual report and pay a $20 fee.

Information about who’s registered as a nonprofit group or corporation in Kansas is available online, at the secretary of state’s site.

And Altevogt said, “You keep an eye on your opponent.”

In 1997, another Johnson County group run by moderates, the GOP Club, had failed to file its annual report, and Altevogt formed his own under the same name.

“The first time, it was a great giggle,” he said. “The second time, it wasn’t. It was sort of, ‘Lord, haven’t these people learned?”‘

After Altevogt took the GOP Club name, moderates formed the GOP Club of Johnson County. Cloud is now chairman.