Topeka — A memo that Atty. Gen. Phill Kline wrote outlining a plan to fully tap his support among churchgoers was the worst abuse of religion in American politics during the 2006 election cycle, a national group said Wednesday.
Kline's directions to his campaign staff included making sure friendly pastors brought "money people" to fundraisers and signing up church members to help with passing out campaign literature. It said one goal was to form a pro-Kline committee at each church.
The memo's designation came from the Interfaith Alliance, a Washington-based group that promotes the separation of church and state and government neutrality on religion.
Kline already faced criticism over his activities involving churches.
Former Atty. Gen. Bob Stephan, a fellow Republican who broke with Kline politically, asked the state ethics commission to investigate church activities, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service.
The internal campaign memo, dated Aug. 8, became public the next month when someone leaked it anonymously to news organizations. It likely contributed to Kline's loss Tuesday to Democrat Paul Morrison, the Johnson County district attorney, because many voters felt it showed Kline used religion for political enrichment.
"I think the memo that Phill Kline wrote to his staff demonstrated how drastically he wanted to use pastors to raise money for his campaign," said William Blake, a spokesman for the Interfaith Alliance. "There is a bright line that is crossed when the politicians are hoping to get money, votes and organization from that preaching."
Kline repeatedly insisted that inspirational messages he sometimes gave at churches weren't connected to campaign activities. For years, Kline has spoken during services and to church groups about reconciling with his once-estranged father and the importance of people having God in their lives.
He and his aides also have said Kline was careful to see that neither he nor churches would run afoul on federal tax laws against nonprofit groups intervening in partisan campaigns.
Kline spokeswoman Sherriene Jones said she had no reaction.
But GOP State Chairman Tim Shallenburger questioned whether Kansans would care about the assessment of "a group whose sole effort is to separate God from country."
"How fair is it? I guess my question is what difference does it make?" Shallenburger said. "I don't think you can look at the Kline election from either side, from a variety of issues, and find the word 'fair."'
Kline already had received national attention for his two-year effort to obtain records of 90 patients from two abortion clinics.
The alliance's list chided both Democrats and Republicans, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., expected to become House speaker. The alliance included her because she encouraged Democrats to couch campaign arguments in biblical terms to appeal to people of faith.
"People of faith don't deserve to be treated like members of a labor union or members of the business community," Blake said. "They deserve a lot more respect than that because they cut across all sort of partisan, ideological lines, not to mention theological lines."
Inside Kline's campaign, his memo became known as the "Slimfast" memo because in it, the candidate told his staff that if he had free time, he should be taken to a quiet place so that he could make phone calls.
"Feed me Slimfast," Kline wrote. "Do not need a sit down meal. Takes too much time."