The White House office serves as a kind of outreach and political center, building support for the concept of aiding private and church-backed social services. The real work of reviewing and making grants goes on in federal agencies, many of which have faith-based offices.
Towey brought sterling credentials to a White House eager to make inroads with religious communities. He was a former counsel to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, an advocate for the rights of the elderly, impoverished and oppressed, including refugees. He was also a close friend of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, and as an opponent of abortion, was unhappy with his old party.
Towey, who is white, says he has sensed a similar disaffection among many black clergy.
"African Americans are really starting to question some of these fundamental precepts that the Democratic Party is there for them," Towey said in an interview from his office next door to the White House.
In addition to issues like abortion and gay marriage, Towey says the frustration stems, in part, from a sense among many black churches that they were excluded from federal grants in the past, due to complicated rules and a preference for large, well-established charities. That, he said, explains why many black clergy have responded so enthusiastically to the faith-based initiative.
But the heightened interest is not entirely spontaneous.
Some black ministers reported receiving entreaties to attend White House meetings or faith-based conferences held around the country, some of them in hard-fought election states. In addition, about two-thirds of Towey's travel during the election year was to a dozen battleground states where he often met with community leaders and promoted the availability of federal funds for church-related social service projects.
The administration also awarded grants to a number of high-profile African American organizations whose leaders were linked directly or indirectly to the GOP. Besides Daniels' church in Milwaukee, a Philadelphia church led by the Rev. Herb Lusk II received $1 million in federal funds for a program to help low-income Philadelphians. Lusk gave the invocation at the 2000 Republican convention and has been an outspoken Bush supporter.
Another beneficiary was a South Florida-based organization headed by Bishop Harold Ray, a longtime Bush acquaintance who gave an invocation for Vice President Dick Cheney at a West Palm Beach, Fla., rally. Ray's group received $1.7 million in taxpayer funds.
A third grant went to the Washington-based National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, founded and headed by Bob Woodson, an outspoken black conservative who backed Bush and whose late son was active in the president's first campaign.
Woodson, like other recipients, rejects the notion that his grant was related to his personal politics. But he said he was aware that some Republicans were hoping to use the program for electoral purposes. He cautioned both parties against letting politics intrude on the initiative, saying it would tarnish the idea.
Administration record-keeping has made it difficult to track where the faith-based money has gone.
Data released last month by the White House, for example, indicate that more than $1 billion was distributed through faith-based programs in 2003. But the summary includes a caveat that it does not represent all grants, and it includes numerous grants to agencies that are actually secular and other groups that were receiving funds long before Bush entered office.
The confusion has drawn sharp questions from critics. Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), a member of the Appropriations Committee who describes himself as a deeply religious Christian, said his repeated requests for accountability had been rebuffed by Republicans, who he charges have used the initiative for political advantage.
Towey defended his travel itinerary, arguing that key electoral states such as Florida, which has its own faith-based program, are also hotbeds for the initiative. "If you look at where the battleground states are, it's where the action is in the faith-based initiative," he said.
Towey insisted he traveled where need was greatest, not where politics dictated. He noted conferences in California, New York, Louisiana and Massachusetts, which were not presidential battlegrounds.
But from the bully pulpit of the White House faith office, Towey often advocated for the president's agenda with biting attacks against critics and, at least once, Sen. John F. Kerry, Bush's Democratic opponent in the 2004 election.
Kerry had laid out a detailed plan to expand faith-based funding, but Towey charged that the Massachusetts senator was under the thumb of "secular extremists" and would relegate the program "to the Smithsonian." At one taxpayer-financed White House conference in the midst of the campaign, Towey declared the faith program a flashpoint in the "culture war" between people of faith and the secular world.