The Family Research Council’s annual meeting, the Values Voter Summit, starts today. Several Americans United staff members will be there.
The event, which has become the largest gathering of the Religious Right in the country, features the usual litany of speakers you see at events like this. President Donald Trump will be there, as will his former adviser Steve Bannon. Current and former right-wing politicians, anti-gay activists, Islamophobes, “Christian nation” advocates, creationists and others from the wacky world of the Religious Right will round out the confab.
Among the speakers is Roy Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and now a candidate for the U.S. Senate. As you might recall, Americans United and other groups successfully sued Moore in 2001 after he erected a two-ton Ten Commandments display at a judicial building in Montgomery.
Roy Moore: Void of honesty?
His appearance before this group of people allegedly obsessed with “values” comes at an odd time: Moore’s just been caught with his grasping hand stuck in a very large cookie jar.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Moore received $180,000 in salary for part-time work from the Foundation for Moral Law, a nonprofit group he formed with this wife. What’s odd about this is that Moore had claimed he wasn’t taking a salary from the group. The deal was privately arranged.
It turned out to be quite lucrative for Moore. As The Post noted, Moore worked only 20 hours per week but took in more than $1 million from the group from 2007 to 2012. This was not disclosed on the group’s public tax filings.
But that’s not all. The Post reported that “errors and gaps in the group’s federal tax filings obscured until now the compensation paid to Moore.
This doesn’t pass the smell test. Using a nonprofit for your own benefit isn’t just uncool, it’s a violation of federal law.
Some background: Most nonprofit organizations are required to file a form annually with the IRS called a 990. The 990 gives some basic information about how much money the group has raised and how it is being spent. (You can often find 990s online through organizations such as Guidestar and Charity Navigator.)
When I looked at the Foundation for Moral Law’s Form 990, a few things jumped out at me. First of all, the most recent one available is from 2014. It shows that the group’s budget that year was $372,030. Assuming that Moore took more than $150,000 of that in salary, this means that a huge portion of the organization’s budget went to pay Moore. That’s not good because nonprofits are supposed to exist to do charitable work or educate people about issues, not pay someone a bloated salary.
Moore’s wife Kayla is the only employee listed on the form. She is reported as working 40 hours per week, but no information about her salary is given. (The Post reported that she was paid $195,000 over three years; Moore’s daughter Heather has also worked for the group as a receptionist. Moore’s whole family is in on this!)
Furthermore, the Foundation for Moral Law doesn’t appear to do much. It has filed court briefs in some church-state cases, and it hosts Moore’s terrible poetry, but these are hardly costly activities. In fact, the Foundation for Moral Law appears to exist primarily to promote Moore as a public speaker and hawk his books.
Tax-law experts consulted by The Post agreed that there are problems here. “The biggest issue is the benefit to Roy Moore,” said Paul Streckfus, a former tax lawyer at the IRS and editor of a tax-related journal.
The IRS apparently agrees. The Post reported that earlier this year, the tax agency concluded an audit of the group’s 2013 finances. The IRS uncovered problems and told the Foundation that it might lose its tax-exempt status if these issues were not addressed.
John Bentley, former chairman of the Foundation’s board, agreed that things aren’t right. In an interview with The Post, Bentley admitted he did not spend a lot of time overseeing the nonprofit’s finances.
Referring to the discrepancies uncovered by the newspaper, Bentley said, “I can understand why that would raise some concerns.”
This weekend, thousands of fundamentalist Christians will gather in Washington to tout their alleged superior “values” and sanctimoniously judge the rest of us who fall short of their standards.
Ironically, they seriously believe that we ought to behave more like Roy Moore.
P.S. AU will be commenting on the Values Voter Summit on our Twitter feed today. We’ll also have a wrap-up on the “Wall of Separation” on Monday and a full report in the November Church & State.