President Bush prodded corporate America on Thursday to open its wallet to faith-based charities and declared his administration's efforts in that area a great success. Independent analysts said the picture was far less clear.
While the federal government sent more than $2 billion to religious charities last year, the five-year White House priority has fallen far short of the ambitious goals that Bush touted as a presidential candidate in 2000.
Some faith-based groups shun government money to avoid restrictions on religious activity. Others find the federal grant process overwhelming. Liberal critics have attacked the program in court, asserting that the president's outreach to religious charities violates the principle of church-state separation.
Bush's effort to steer federal money to faith-based charities was a core element of the "compassionate conservative" agenda that he spelled out in 2000. The idea that faith can change lives for the better is personal for the president. He says his faith helped him overcome his "wandering years," when he drank heavily and lacked career goals.
"One of the things that really inspires me is when I get to meet folks who are on the front line of changing America one soul at a time," he said Thursday at a White House conference for religious charities. "Government can pass law and it can hand out money, but it cannot love."
He urged corporations and charitable foundations to increase their funding of faith-based groups. A recent White House survey of 20 large corporate foundations found that about 6 percent of their donations went to religious organizations.