Donations solicited illegally

Charleston Gazette, January 6, 1999 1001 Virginia St. E., Charleston, WV 25301 Fax: (304) 348-1233 E-Mail:

Persistent and not registered, Christian Voice sent as many as three mailings a week

By Maryclaire Dale, STAFF WRITER

When a Wood County woman showed signs of dementia last year, her son and daughter-in-law stepped in to manage her affairs.

To their surprise, and horror, they found the 85-year-old woman had sent $4,000 of her $5,000 annual Social Security income to conservative Christian groups that solicited her by mail.

"Our children are in desperate trouble," read a recent appeal from a group called Christian Voice. "Because the Militant Homosexual Lobby has unveiled a dangerous new scheme to shove their evil agenda through Congress."

In 1998 alone, the Wood County woman received 2,579 pieces of junk mail. "I didn't count her getting the Ladies' Home Journal," quipped her daughter- in-law, who asked not to be named to protect her relative's privacy.

She and her husband traced the barrage of mailings back to 1995 donations to the Christian Coalition and Bob Dole's presidential campaign. Over the next few years, her mother-in-law sent checks ranging from $50 to $150 to 57 different groups.

"She was so confused. Every time they sent her a letter, she sent them a check," said the daughter-in-law, who has spent much of the past year trying to stop the solicitations.

Ruth Cole of Cross Lanes also received Christian Voice's recent pleading, although the group is not registered with the secretary of state's office, as state law requires.

Cole, 82, raised 10 children on the money she earned cleaning houses and churches. She too survives on Social Security income, and gets several letters a day asking for money.

"Some of them are good causes, but you don't know what the money is going for," Cole said Tuesday.

"If all that money went to the cause, I could see it. But when half of it, or most of it, is going to the people putting it out ," she said, as she looked over a half-dozen glossy appeals. She usually gives to the Salvation Army, the United Way and a Catholic home for boys.

She had to sign for the registered letter from Christian Voice, which led her to believe it was something urgent. After reading the four-page letter, she wondered if the group knew something she didn't, given its dire warnings about homosexual quotas.

"Churches, DayCare Centers, Nursing Homes, Schools, and even Christian Voice will have huge new 'Affirmative Action' programs that force them to hire Homosexuals," it states.

Christian Voice issued the same anti-gay warnings in fund-raising letters dating back to 1982. The group, which has personnel and financial ties to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, was more active in the 1980s, issuing "moral report cards" for congressional candidates and raising money for Col. Oliver North during the Iran-contra hearings.

"They've been soliciting illegally," said Kathy Frerotte of the secretary of state's office. She wrote Christian Voice's executive director, Gina Jarmin, in September 1997, saying the group had to register _ and report the money raised and spent in West Virginia, among other things.

Jarmin responded that the solicitation Frerotte had seen was unintentional. Christian Voice tried to delete West Virginia ZIP codes from its mailing list, Jarmin wrote at the time. However, Cole, the Wood County woman and others who contacted Frerotte have continued to receive appeals.

Jarmin, whose husband, Gary, was a previous Moon disciple and one of Christian Voice's founders, said Tuesday that the group plans to solicit in West Virginia in 1999, and will register with Frerotte's office.

She said she was too busy too discuss the group's income and expenditures. According to Frerotte, several other right-wing Christian groups raising money in West Virginia have also failed to register, including Fortress America, Americans for a Balanced Budget, America's Prayer Network and the Christian Defense Fund.

The daughter-in-law in Wood County has sent out more than 300 letters in the past year trying to get her mother-in-law's name off various mailing lists. Christian Voice was especially persistent, she said. Its president, Robert Grant, "is awful about mailings. She'd get two or three a week," she said. By going through checkbooks and bank statements, she and her husband found his mother had spent $4,000 from her savings to pay for living expenses last year. The daughter-in-law has filed a complaint with Frerotte's office about the mailings.

"I get more calls like that, from children trying to take care of elderly parents. They really suffer from this," Frerotte said.