Church of Scientology lobbied the White House

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
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The Church of Scientology lobbied the White House on key issues, pushing for criminal justice reform and for help to combat Russia’s religious “Extremism Law,” which targets Scientology.

Scientology’s Washington lobbyist also met with Obama White House officials to participate in multiple working groups and met with the Obama administration Transition Team before Obama took office, records reveal.

Obama administration departments lobbied by Scientology include the State Department, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Greg Mitchell, founder of the small firm The Mitchell Company, is the Church of Scientology’s official lobbyist in Washington, D.C. and also a Church of Scientology member. Insiders say that his role is to help the Church gain mainstream credibility with influential decision-makers.

On behalf of his client Church of Scientology International, Mitchell lobbied the White House Office four times: twice in 2009 and twice in 2012, according to lobbying disclosure forms. Church of Scientology International was Mitchell’s only client that he lobbied the White House for on these occasions, according to the disclosures.

In 2012, Mitchell took two payments of $20,000 each from Scientology to lobby the White House Office, State Department, Justice Department, and others for stronger U.S. engagement on Russia’s alleged “rising restrictions…contributing to an atmosphere of intolerance and discrimination against religious communities and their individual members,” according to 2012 lobbying disclosures.

Mitchell’s lobbying work highlighted his clients’ concern about Russia’s “increasing misuse of the 2002 Extremism Law to censor religious scriptures and disrupt religious organizations,” according to an April 2012 disclosure.

The 2002 Extremism Law has long been a thorn in the side of the Church of Scientology.

“Like other targeted faiths in Russia, authorities are also attempting to suppress the Scientology religion by seizing upon  the June 2002 Extremism Law to justify confiscation and censorship of Scientology religious Scriptures,” according to a document “Distributed at the request of Church of Scientology” in June 2010.

“The Church of Scientology, Scientology parishioners and Scientology organizations have been the target of systematic  religious repression and discrimination by Russian authorities in contravention of international human rights law which Russia is obliged to follow,” the document concluded.

A Moscow court upheld a ban on Scientology books in March 2012, citing “extremism.”

Mitchell took two payments of $40,000 each from Scientology to lobby Congress and the White House Office on another major Scientology pet issue, criminal justice reform, in 2009. Mitchell specifically lobbied the White House for federal funding of grant programs authorized by the Second Chance Act of 2007, and for passage of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009.

“With other members of an informal Faith in Action Criminal Justice Reform Working Group, [Mitchell] met with members of the Obama Administration Transition Team and spoke about the need to pass and sign into law legislation to reduce the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses, and legislation to reform the Prison Litigation Reform Act,” according to an April 2009 lobbying disclosure.

“With several other members of a faith-based working group on criminal justice reform, [Mitchell] met with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and proposed the White House organize a national conference on creating a criminal justice system that reflects our nation’s values,” according to a July 2009 disclosure.

“Gregory Mitchell” visited the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House on September 28, 2009 to participate in a “Criminal Justice Working Group” with Policy Assistant David Pope, according to White House visitor logs.

On the Russian issue, Mitchell circulated a letter that was signed by “35 religious and human rights organizations” including the Church of Scientology expressing concern. The groups are believed to be members of an “informal” group called the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, co-chaired by Mitchell. The Church of Scientology is an informal member of the group.

Mitchell told TheDC that he would contact his client before agreeing to an interview, and ultimately did not return our request. The White House and the Church of Scientology did not return requests for comment.

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Patrick Howley