WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Papal Conclave isn't the only gathering of powerful Catholic leaders shrouded in secrecy. The church is flexing big lobbying muscles in Washington D.C., and doing, at least some of it, under the cloak of darkness.
Some of the same U.S. cardinals voting behind closed doors at the Vatican have been trying to swing votes at the Capitol, too. In just the past few weeks, Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley lobbied Congress to change birth control provisions in health care law.
Catholic bishops supported overhauling immigration law, and formally questioned the military policy on same-sex partners.
The church doesn't have to publicly report all of its spending.
"What they do on Capitol, is they have a lot of money, a lot of staff, a lot of consultants, and what they try to do is convince the body politic," said Jon O'Brien, President of Catholics for Choice.
A 1995 Federal law regulating lobbying carved out an exemption for religious organizations, allowing them to avoid total disclosure.
Without disclosures, it's difficult to know who is lobbying local Congressional leaders, and what they're demanding.
"It's a different set of rules, but it doesn't take away from the fact that the conference of bishops is one of the biggest forces on Capitol Hill, and they're involved in a variety of issues," said Dave Levinthal, with the Center for Public Integrity.
Tax-exempt religious groups are prohibited from campaigning for candidates, but lobbying is permitted.
The Pew Research Group estimates the U.S. conference of Catholic Bishops spent $26 million lobbying in one year.
The bishops themselves would not confirm that number, nor are they required to, by phone, email or smoke signal.