By Rob Schofield, NC Policy Watch
North Carolina will have a new and very different Lt. Governor come January. Dan Forest is an extremely conservative Republican from Raleigh who, though the son of a congresswoman, has never before served in elected office. An architect by training, Forest defeated Democrat Linda Coleman by a razor-thin margin in a race that wasn't officially settled until more than a week after Election Day.
That Forest is almost certainly the most conservative Lt. Governor in decades and quite likely the most conservative statewide elected official in North Carolina, period, seems little in doubt. Whether he's keeping his own children out of the public schools to be "home schooled," championing controversial anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy clinics" or opposing the very existence of the minimum wage, Forest appears to be in step with the most extreme wing of the state's Tea Party movement on just about every issue
A thoroughly researched and well-documented memo and website produced by the State Employees Association of North Carolina (which strongly backed Coleman) confirms this. It shows that Forest has staked out extreme positions on numerous other issues that would put him on the right of the right -- whether it’s abolishing all corporate income taxes, repealing every single aspect of the Affordable Care Act, supporting school vouchers or aligning himself with far right conspiracy theorists who fret about "Agenda 21."
Perhaps the most interesting and even borderline strange activity on Forest's resume, however, involves his work with conservative nonprofits -- most notably a Raleigh-based organization that calls itself "The Faith Driven Consumer." The organization was founded (or, at least, it first registered with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Corporations Division) in March of last year. Its two listed directors are Forest and a fellow named Christopher Stone -- also of Raleigh. Forest also listed himself as a board member of the group on the statement of economic interest he filed with the State Ethics Commission in March of this year.
(Forest also listed three other groups on the ethics statement -- an apparently active conservative Christian men's group called the Triangle Leadership Forum of which Forest is actually the president and a pair of somewhat more mysterious groups called "Revision North Carolina" and "Revision America" -- or perhaps "Re:Vision America" and "Re:Vision North Carolina." Although referred to on his ethics disclosure and campaign website, neither of these latter two groups was ever apparently incorporated with the Secretary of State. A web search turned up no active websites, but did turn up an old website for Re:Vision North Carolina in which it claimed to be a nonprofit organized under Chapter 501(c)(4) of the I.R.S. code -- apparently as some sort of platform for Forest's campaign. There's even a video of Forest attacking Social Security, the Food and Drug Administration and the supposed threat of "Sharia law.")
But back to The Faith Driven Consumer. According to its website, the group's mission is:
"to empower consumers and companies to live more faithful lives.
FaithDrivenConsumer.org creates a bridge to close the gap between consumers and corporations by:
- Creating a unifying consumer voice for those who hold a Christian worldview;
- Providing an opportunity for corporations to engage such consumers based upon their needs, wants and preferences just like they do for consumers with other worldviews."
Basically, the group purports to provide seals of approval for companies that it decides comport with "Christian" and "Biblical" values (note that for the group's purposes "Christian" and "Biblical" mean conservative, fundamentalist Christianity). It then promotes the companies to the supposed tens of millions of Americans whom it claims will be swayed by such information.
It's not clear from the website how the company reviews occur, who does the work or whether the companies ever pay for the ratings they receive.
In another interesting twist, however, Forest's partner in the nonprofit, Christopher Stone, runs a for-profit consulting/advertising agency (he calls it a "branding consultancy") out of the same offices that purports to do essentially the same thing. Indeed, the website for The Stone Agency (the "t" in Stone looks like a cross) shares many of the same words and sentences that one finds on FaithDrivenConsumer.org. The Stone Agency claims that several major corporations are clients and prominently features endorsements from muckety-mucks at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and other large corporations. (Calls to Blue Cross seeking information about what Stone actually did for the insurance giant have yet to be returned.)
To make things even a little stranger, Stone and Forest also registered yet another nonprofit last March with a similar objective called True Trust Brands. That nonprofit, which also has a website, also claims the same address as its home base and the same basic mission.
Finally, to complete (apparently anyway) the rather complex corporate picture, Stone also runs a for-profit real estate business out of the same location. (When I called the Stone Agency yesterday to see if I could ask a few questions about these enterprises and the connections to Forest, I was told that Stone's wife Michele was "in the office" and that she would call me back. She has yet to do so.)
The "Faith-Friendly Christmas Guide"
Perhaps the most interesting feature on FaithDrivenConsumer.org is its 38 page "Christmas Guide." This is from the introduction:
“"n this guide, you will see how some of the most popular stores for Christmas shopping -- spanning various industries -- stack up against a biblical worldview. Each company is rated by specific criteria (found in the back of your guide) and receives an overall score to reflect how closely it aligns to biblical beliefs. Click on the hyperlinks to view the full profile on the Company Reviews section of our website. The full profile shows you a fuller analysis of corporate behavior in the respective categories of Pro-life; Biblical Sexuality, Marriage and Family; Non-pornographic Materials; Wholesome Entertainment; Philanthropy; Corporate Responsibility and Other."
It's really a rather remarkable and, at times, laugh-out-loud document.
For instance, one of the easiest ways for a company to get downgraded on its "Biblical" worldview is to support equality for the LGBT Americans. Indeed, a high score from a pro-equality group known as the Human Rights Campaign appears to be a surefire way to get downgraded by Stone's and Forest's group. So is support for the United Way and the Susan G. Komen Foundation (which fights breast cancer) because these groups "provide funds to Planned Parenthood."
But perhaps the most entertaining and bizarre section can be found under its reviews of companies for their supposed promotion of "pornography." The giant retailer Sears, for instance, gets extremely low marks because of some sexually-themed book titles it supposedly carries (evidently in some K-Mart stores which Sears owns) and because "Sear's (sic) catalogues and website feature women in lingerie." (Emphasis supplied.)
We are not making this up. The review even provides a handy link to the lingerie website for the faith-driven consumer to click on and, presumably, test his or her faith.
In a big upset, the group also gives low marks to the clothing retailer Victoria's Secret in the same category.
No laughing matter
Of course, if all of this were just some strange Saturday Night Live skit or Stephen Colbert parody, it would be amusing in every way. Unfortunately, it appears that, by all indications, Forest and Stone are serious about this stuff. And thus, as a result, North Carolinians can now look forward to at least four years in which the state's second highest elected official subscribes to a worldview that is so warped and narrow and, well, absurdly wacky, that we can rest assured that the national jokesters and humorists will be hot on his trail in the near future.
It's going to be a long four years.