We’ve known for years that Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice has been making himself fabulously rich by shamelessly exploiting the fears of the credulous, but just how rich will probably blow your mind.
Since 1998, the two charities have paid out more than $33 million to members of Sekulow’s family and businesses they own or co-own, according to the charities’ federal tax returns, known as form 990s.
The two non-profits are Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE) and the ACLJ. He has full control of CASE and is chief counsel for the ACLJ (his son Jordan is the executive director).
Among the payments since 1998:
$15.4 million to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, a law firm co-owned by Jay Sekulow. According to the 2009 tax form, he owns 50 percent of CLAG. The firm was known as the Center for Law and Justice when it received some of the payments.
$5.7 million to Gary Sekulow, Jay Sekulow’s brother. He is paid for two full-time jobs — as CFO of both the American Center for Law and Justice, or ACLJ, and Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, or CASE. In 2009, his combined compensation topped $600,000.
$2.74 million in private jet lease payments to Regency Productions, a company owned by Jay Sekulow, and PFMS, a company owned by his sister-in-law, Kim Sekulow.
$1.78 million to Regency Productions for leasing office space and media production.
$1.11 million to PFMS for administrative and media buying services.
$1.6 million to Pam Sekulow, Jay Sekulow’s wife, including a $245,000 loan from CASE, which she used to purchase a home from the charity. The balance of the loan was later forgiven over several years and reported on the 990s as income.
$681,911 to Jay Sekulow’s sons, Logan and Jordan, for media work and other duties at CASE.
Nice work if you can get it.
But Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a charity watchdog group, said there’s a problem when a charity’s board is dominated by family members.
Nonprofit board members are supposed to be independent and look out for the best interests of donors. That’s nearly impossible with so many family members on a board, he said, after reviewing three years of CASE and ACLJ tax returns.
“Are they going to operate in the best interest of the family or the best interest of the charity or the public?” he said. “They are only human.”
John Whitehead, founder of the conservative Rutherford Institute, a Christian civil rights charity founded in 1982, was more blunt about Sekulow, whose work he has followed for years.
When Christian charities become successful, he said, they can lose sight of the ethics of their faith, which include handling money with care. Six-figure salaries and perks like a private jet clash with Christian ideals about charity.
“If you read the New Testament, the founder of Christianity said, ‘I have no place to lay my head,’ ” Whitehead said. “I am aghast at modern evangelism and the money.”
The IRS requires nonprofits to disclose the compensation of their leaders.
Whitehead earned $162,452 in fiscal year 2009, according to Rutherford’s tax return. Alan Sears, head of the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group that took in $35 million that year, earned $368,833 in total compensation. Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, made $350,232.
But the ACLJ reports on its official documents that Jay Sekulow has taken no salary since 2002. Of course, he doesn’t have to take a salary; it’s all paid to his law firm. And here’s the best part:
In a phone call, Ronn Torossian, a public relations executive serving as ACLJ’s spokesman, portrayed Sekulow as a great lawyer getting by on modest pay.
“You are asking about one of the most successful lawyers in the country whose income is very small and owns a very small home,” he said.
Property records show Jay and Pam Sekulow own three homes, including one they bought in 2008 in Franklin for $655,000 and another in Norfolk, Va., bought in 2005 for $690,000. Their third home, which once belonged to CASE, is in Waynesville, N.C., and is assessed at $262,800, according to Haywood County, N.C., tax records.
On Planet Wingnuttia, three big homes = one very small home.
Like Dispatches on Facebook: