Legal Times reporter Tony Mauro has just written a fascinating and eye-opening piece about Jay Sekulow, TV preacher Pat Robertson's top lawyer.
Sekulow, an increasingly powerful ally of the Bush administration, has led the Religious Right's charge to remake the U.S. Constitution in the far right's image. Through his American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), Sekulow has worked assiduously to erode the wall of separation between church and state and bring religion and government closer together.
The article reveals a side of Sekulow that has received much less attention: the personal financial empire he has built. As Mauro explains, Sekulow told Legal Times in June that his salary was $275,000 a year. But Mauro discovered that did not include compensation from another group Sekulow runs. Added together, the salary figure was far higher, and Sekulow later conceded his salary now exceeds $600,000 yearly. Sekulow was making so much money that he arranged to work for the ACLJ (which is a non-profit organization) as an independent contractor, so that his salary does not have to be publicly reported on financial disclosure forms.
Sekulow has also spread the wealth among family members. As Legal Times reported, "At various times in recent years, Sekulow's wife, brother, sister-in-law, and two sons have been on the boards or payrolls of organizations under his control or have received generous payments as contractors. Sekulow's brother Gary is the chief financial officer of both nonprofit organizations that fund his activities, a fact that detractors say diminishes accountability for his spending."
The article goes on to note, "According to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service, funds from his nonprofits have also been used to lease a private jet from companies under his family's control."
Sekulow's use of non-profits to enrich himself and his family does not sit well with some of his associates. One anonymous former employee told Legal Times, "Some of us truly believed God told us to serve Jay, but not to help him live like Louis XIV. We are coming forward because we need to believe there is fairness in this world."
Another remarked, "Jay sends so many discordant signals. He talks about doing God's work for his donors, and then he flies off in his plane to play golf."
Prior to working with Robertson, Sekulow founded a right-wing legal group called Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE), headquartered in Atlanta. Most observers of the Religious Right assumed CASE closed its doors when Robertson hired Sekulow to run the ACLJ.
In fact, CASE still exists. As Mauro noted, "Sekulow became chief counsel of the ACLJ in 1991 but did not fold the Atlanta-based CASE into its operations, giving him an independent source of funds. Former employees say this was done, in part, to keep some of Sekulow's operations out of Robertson's view."
Most ACLJ donors probably have no idea that money they give stands a good chance of ending up in the coffers of CASE. As Mauro writes, "Certain solicitations mention CASE in fine print as an entity 'doing business as' the ACLJ. Sekulow confirms that checks resulting from these mailings are routed to CASE. Internal critics say that the lesser-known CASE is where Sekulow reports most family-related transactions and other financial information that would be unflattering if revealed on the IRS forms filed by the more visible ACLJ."
CASE reported receiving nearly $14 million in donations for 2003. Its board of directors has three members: Sekulow, his wife, and his son Jordan.
Mauro also reported that CASE has paid for or subsidized three homes for Sekulow: a townhouse in Washington, a residence in Virginia Beach and a house in North Carolina Sekulow says is a "retreat property."
Is all of this legal? The Internal Revenue Service says non-profits may not be used to enrich the individuals who work for them or serve on their boards. One expert contacted by Mauro, Bruce Hopkins, a lawyer with expertise in non-profit operations, said Sekulow is "certainly engaging in practices where higher scrutiny is warranted."
Indeed. People give money to the ACLJ because they want to see a conservative legal perspective gain currency in the courts, not to allow Sekulow to live like an eastern potentate. There is a lot here for the IRS to look at. The tax agency needs to get started soon.