BlackVAULT – W. Scott Malone: Bush and the Bakker Connection –On His Way to the White House, the Vice President Wooed the Preacher

Posted: December 2, 2012 by BlackNETintel-2 in W. Scott Malone


US/1; ATTN  

December 18, 1988, Sunday, Final Edition 

By William Scott Malone

A QUICK QUIZ: Which candidates for the Republican presidential nomination made their personal relationship with Jesus Christ a part of their quest for the White House?
Televangelist Pat Robertson was one of them, but that’s easy. There’s at least one other: One candidate whose spiritual life had not previously surfaced despite his years of public service, but who told reporters he sat around watching The PTL Club “from time to time,” and that when it came to giving money to broadcast preachers like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, he “certainly wouldn’t be opposed to it.”
It was the same candidate who, when meeting privately with evangelical church leaders, told them that “Jesus Christ is my personal savior.”

The same candidate whose advisers received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from PTL. The same candidate, in fact, who won the nomination and later the election: George Bush, the pork-rind-munching, country-music-listening, Christian ecstatic from Kennebunkport.

George Bush’s interest in Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker went well beyond occasionally enjoying their old TV show. Back in November 1985, when the most worrisome blip on Bush’s campaign radar screen seemed to be Pat Robertson’s probable candidacy, and when The PTL Club was the most-watched religious show in the country, Bush made a pilgrimage to Charlotte, N.C., to meet with the Rev. Bakker.
Marlin Fitzwater, then Bush’s spokesman, said that the two men “discussed their shared Christian beliefs and the possible 1988 candidacy of evangelical Pat Robertson.” No doubt. What Bush wanted from Bakker was his endorsement. In 1984, Bakker, together with fellow evangelists Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart,  had joined in registration efforts of the American Coalition for Traditional Values, an organization which later claimed to have signed up some 2 million Christian voters. 

That fall, Bakker endorsed his first presidential candidate — Ronald Reagan. 

Born-again Christians reportedly gave Reagan nearly one out of every five votes he received that year, nearly half his margin of victory. The lesson of 1984 was not lost on Bush. Bakker, for his part, moved one step closer to his dream of ultimate respectability — a position in a Bush White House, exactly what was being dangled in front of him by key Bush advisers.
Bakker recalled the 1985 meeting with Bush, which took place in a private suite at the Charlotte Plaza Building, during a recent interview in Charlotte.  “I spent an hour with him,” said Bakker, who has since been indicted by a federal grand jury on 24 counts of wire and mail fraud. Bush, thought Bakker, “was a regular guy,” an impression Bush seems to have wanted to foster; the vice president went to the trouble of constructing his own barbeque sandwich in front of Bakker’s then-regal entourage. 
Did Bush want a political alliance with Bakker? “He did before,” Bakker says. “He doesn’t now.” It would have been a marriage of convenience, and one that Bush seemed anxious to consummate. Even so, Bakker’s ties to the Bush campaign were hardly limited to meeting the candidate himself. At about the time Bakker was breaking bread with Bush, Bakker also put three Bush advisers on the PTL payroll — at a cost of over $ 200,000 in PTL funds.
Although utilizing such charitable funds for political purposes would be illegal under U.S. tax law, a determination as to whether any services performed for PTL by the Bush campaign advisors would constitute “political purposes” has not been addressed by either the Justice Department or the Internal Revenue Service.
The Bush-Bakker connection appears to date from the late 1985 meeting. Bush, speaking in the syntax for which he has become famous, characterized it as a “very enjoyable, very friendly, no-agenda kind of a meeting.”
The following January, Tammy Faye met privately with Barbara Bush at the vice president’s official Washington residence. PTL Master Card bills showed that Tammy Faye and her entourage spent over $ 8,300 on hotel bills alone during their Washington stay, which lasted only a few days.
A little over a month after that, in March 1986, Bakker held a series of political meetings with Doug Wead. Wead was then a frequent PTL guest, an occasional PTL Club guest host, and, as it happened, the paid religious liaison for the George Bush campaign. Wead helped Bush meet with as many as 1,000 evangelical leaders, many of them in one-on-one conclaves. Wead and Bakker met repeatedly, sometimes at the Heritage USA headquarters outside Fort Mill, S.C., and more often at Bakker’s Palm Desert, Calif., retreat, to discuss the possibility of Bakker endorsing Bush in 1988.
According to Don Hardister, PTL’s former chief of security and Bakker’s personal bodyguard for seven years, who was present during most of the confidential discussions, the possibility of Bakker himself becoming a White House aide during a Bush administration was also discussed. “I was looking forward to working at the White House also,” Hardister recalled. “Jim Bakker would have been the new Billy Graham,” insisted Hardister. “And he would have gotten [a White House position] without any question.”
Wead denied discussing a White House position with Bakker.
Wead was also supplementing his income with funds from the PTL Club. He was paid $ 75,000 by Bakker in 1986 to write a book to be entitled “Anatomy of a Smear,” detailing Bakker’s claims that he had been the target of an elaborate conspiracy between the Charlotte Observer newspaper and the “godless” Federal Communications Commission. 

The FCC, with jurisdiction over PTL’s Canton, Ohio, television station, had launched an investigation of Bakker’s potentially fraudulent on-air fund-raising schemes after a 1979 Charlotte Observer series on the diversion of money raised for PTL foreign mission projects.

Bakker didn’t get much for the money he paid Wead. Despite a mass-mailing of glossy PTL pamphlets annoucing the forthcoming “Anatomy of a Smear,” no such book was ever published. Wead later said that the Bakkers had rejected three complete manuscripts he submitted to them because they failed to flatter them enough. Hardister said “Wead only provided five or six chapters, which was nothing — not $ 75,000 worth.”
Wead did, however, help spread PTL’s largesse around to other key Bush operatives, including Bush’s then-retired press secretary, Pete Teeley. In October 1985, Wead introduced Teeley to Bakker. Bakker promptly retained Teeley as PTL’s “Washington liaison” for $ 5,000 per month, a sum later doubled to $10,000 per month. By the time this arrangement between Teeley and PTL ended 18 months later, Teeley had collected a total of $ 120,000.
What was Teeley doing to earn that kind of money? According to Hardister, it was Teeley who arranged the Bush-Bakker conclave that took place the next month. “Teeley also kept teasing us with a vice presidential visit to Heritage U.S.A., which would have been much more high-profile,” Hardister said. Teeley denies Hardister’s story. Asked who did arrange the November 1985 meeting, Teeley says he doesn’t know.
“We discussed the whole area of political connections,” Teeley later said of his work for Bakker. And what political advice did he give PTL? “My advice to Bakker was they should not involve themselves in that area . . . . I didn’t think it was in their best interest.” (It was advice Bakker apparently ignored in continuing to pay Teeley, who would return full time to the Bush campaign in 1987.)
The only specific thing Teeley said he accomplished for his $120,000 fee was the recommendation that Bakker hire Dean Burch as his Washington attorney. PTL was planning to buy another TV station, and it needed some heavy political and legal artillery. A former FCC chairman and Republican National Committee head, Burch is a long-time friend of George Bush.
According to the still-confidential minutes of PTL board of directors meetings, Bakker wasted no time in following this bit of Teeley advice. The minutes state that on Nov. 12, 1985, four days after Bakker’s private “no-agenda” meeting with the vice president, Burch was hired by unanimous vote.  The fees paid to Burch have not been made public, but his advice, essentially, was that PTL should hold off any action until after the 1988 election. “Jim wanted to challenge the FCC,” recalled Hardister. “But Burch cooled him down, and got the FCC off our back. Burch advised us to wait until Bush got into office — things would be better” at the FCC. 
Burch, who declined to comment last week, had earlier told reporters that “Bakker . . . [was] concerned that representations that PTL had made to the FCC would prevent them from buying stations.”
Those “representations” had been made during a two-year (1979-1981) investigation of Bakker’s on-air fund-raising techniques. At its conclusion, FCC staff attorney Lawrence Bernstein wrote a confidential report documenting how Bakker had misappropriated some $ 350,000 in funds specifically raised for PTL foreign missions.
The staff report offered an even more chilling portrait of Jim Bakker’s integrity and truthfulness, the two most important requisites to holding an FCC license. The report showed that Bakker was flatly contradicted under oath 81 times. He was contradicted by the sworn testimony of former PTL officers 27 times, by PTL documents 18 times, and by his own testimony and video-taped statements a jarring 36 times.
In December 1982, after a two-year delay, the FCC voted 4-to-3 to allow PTL to quietly sell its Canton station and thus avoid public hearings. One month later, PTL video cameras were whirring as President Reagan delivered a speech to the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Washington. To loud applause, the president sang the praises of PTL’s “Love Centers,” as a beaming Jim Bakker peered over his shoulder on the stage. In March 1983, then-assistant attorney general Lowell Jensen signed a formal Justice Department letter declining to bring any charges or to conduct a further investigation of possible perjury or financial fraud by the PTL management.
“Despite compelling evidence of improprieties,” according to Bernstein, who later resigned from the FCC over the PTL case, both the FCC and the Justice Department “apparently succumbed to political pressure in deciding to let PTL escape punishment.” Bernstein’s report and the supporting documentation would not see the light of public scrutiny for another three years. According to Hardister, the “vindicated” Bakker became even more active politically and broadened his contacts with George Bush.
On March 19, 1987, Bakker announced that he would leave PTL as a result of his sexual tryst with former church secretary Jessica Hahn. Fellow evangelist Falwell would take over during his “absence.” The following morning Falwell
received a private phone call of support from Bush.
Throughout the scandal that ensued, Bush managed to distance himself completely from PTL. Teeley went back on staff as Bush’s campaign spokesman. Wead continued as Bush’s religious liaison, stationing operatives in hundreds of fundamentalist churches in the South to report weekly on primary opponent Pat Robertson. Burch was mentioned as a possible attorney general. Teeley and Wead are also under consideration for high-level positions in the new Bush administration.
If not for the Jessica Hahn scandal, Jim Bakker might soon also have been sitting behind a new White House desk. Two weeks before his recent indictment, Bakker was attributing his downfall to a wide-ranging conspiracy between government agents and his evangelistic competitors. “Somebody wanted the religious voting bloc smashed, and it was smashed — it’s gone.”
During a recent Sunday service which the Bakkers held in a Charlotte roller-skating rink, the still-boyish Bakker railed — in a fiery preaching style reminiscent of his early sawdust-and-tent days — against the media and government interference in church affairs, especially his own. Between his thunderous outbursts, Tammy Faye performed numbers from her latest album. They raised $ 20,000 in less than five minutes from the 200 or so assembled faithful and promised to be back on TV by January.
Asked after the sermon about his current opinion of the new president-elect, whose autographed picture Bakker once hung proudly in the lobby of PTL’s headquarters, Bakker said: “I just hope he still believes in separation of church and state.” When questioned if he had gotten his money’s worth from the $200,000 to $ 300,000 he paid Bush advisers Teeley, Wead and Burch, Bakker raised his eyebrows: “Where did you come by those names?” When pressed further, Bakker would only say, “I’d rather not cast any stones.”

William Scott Malone, a Washington reporter, conducted the investigation for the January 1988 PBS “Frontline” documentary “Praise the Lord.” Contributing to this report was Mark Ethridge III,former managing editor of the Charlotte Observer, who shared the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for exposing PTL.


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