Catholics have no pope. But American Catholics still have their own super PAC.
While the powerful U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops serves as the main public policy arm of the Catholic hierachy, a lay-led group of believers launched the CatholicVote.org Candidate Fund in March 2011. It is affiliated with CatholicVote.org, a Chicago-based nonprofit formerly known as Fidelis.
The super PAC raised $476,000 during the 2012 election cycle, according to federal campaign finance records.
It made about $293,000 worth of independent expenditures, mostly on ads and materials that either supported Republican Mitt Romney's failed presidential run or criticized President Barack Obama.
It also spent modest sums aiding the unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidates Richard Mourdock of Indiana, Connie Mack of Florida and Tom Smith of Pennsylvania. All are Republicans.
The bullk of the money the super PAC raised — $200,000 — came from Michigan businessman John C. Kennedy, the founder, president and chief executive officer of two companies based in Kentwood, Mich., Autocam and Autocam Medical.
Last year, Kennedy sued the U.S. government over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. ObamaCare, because he believed the law would violate his religious beliefs by requiring that the health insurance he offered his employees cover abortions, sterilization and birth control.
CatholicVote.org also operates a traditional political action committee, which was mostly idle during the 2012 election cycle. This committee, which may make direct contributions to candidates, raised just $700 during that period.
But ahead of the 2010 midterm elections, the PAC raised about $28,000 and doled out $15,500 to federal candidates, with 87 percent of that money aiding Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The goal of CatholicVote.org's PAC is to "provide qualified candidates with direct financial support while working independently to mobilize voters to elect candidates whom we believe will be faithful stewards of Catholic social teaching and the common good," according to the organization's website.
Last year, CatholicVote.org — which is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a social welfare organization under Sec. 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code — also provided $71,250 in in-kind support to the super PAC in the form of its email list. That ranked the nonprofit as the No. 2 donor to the super PAC behind Kennedy.
CatholicVote.org was launched in 2008 as a way to “organize, coordinate and mobilize grassroots civic action for Catholics and all people of good will to defend life, faith and family,” according to documents it has filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
In 2011, the group raised about $1.4 million and its 501(c)(3) nonprofit arm raised about $1.1 million, according to the most recent annual reports filed with the IRS.
The nonprofit is currently offering donors a special gift online: a free copy of now-former Pope Benedict XVI's book, which the group touts as "perfect for Lent" on its website.