If you haven’t heard, The Satanic Temple (TST) is planning an Arkansas Rally in Arkansas on August 16th in protest of Jason Rapert’s 10 commandments monument.
This comes on the heels of the ACLU and Arkansas Secretary of State both trying to prevent TST from joining the lawsuit against the 10 Commandments monument as an intervenor as we’ve reported previously. While all that sorts itself out in the court though, I decided to do some digging into the background of the case and it’s turned up some interesting facts that raise even more interesting questions. These questions largely center on State Senator Jason Rapert’s (R-Conway) justifications for the monument, and how the organizations responsible for the monument function.
The American History & Heritage Foundation, Rapert’s ‘Not a Church’ Non-Profit
A large part of Rapert’s public defense of the monument has been to try and make a legal distinction between his ardently religious views as a Christian minister, and the purported secular ‘historical’ nature of his non-profit The American History and Heritage Foundation (AHHF). Much of his argument rests on Rapert and his Holy Ghost Ministries, Inc (HGM) being entirely separate from the AHHF. This is where things start to get interesting though.
The AHHF is a registered non-profit in the State of Arkansas according the Secretary of State’s website, as is Holy Ghost Ministries. But non-profits, with very few exceptions, are ordinarily required to file with the federal government (so donors can deduct their contributions on their own income taxes). What’s more, non-profits are required to file one of various versions of what is called a form 990, which is just a basic reporting requirement that tells the government how much money people gave them for the year. That way if someone says (for example) ’I give this nonprofit $100,000’, and the non-profit only reports say $70,000 the IRS knows someone is lying. Pretty basic stuff so far, right?
Here’s the thing though. As near as I’ve been able to ascertain from public record searches of the IRS Tax Exempt Organization Search and guidestar.org (a popular non-profit information aggregator) the AHHF has never submitted a form 990, nor do they appear in the IRS Exempt Organization Master list.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean anything by itself. IRS rules basically say a non-profit has 3 years to comply with 990 requirements and the AHHF was founded in 2015 so it’s entirely possible they filed an extension for 2017 and don’t need to send that form in until October instead of April. Who knows, right? But it’s still odd because the GoFundMe campaign that was used to raise money for the monument raised a lot of money, far more than the actual cost or replacement cost of the monument. So one would think they’d have wanted to report those contributions.
What About the Holy Ghost Ministries?
Despite being a church, which don’t have to report much of anything, Holy Ghost Ministries does show up in exempt organization searches and is on the IRS charities master list. HGM has also dutifully filed it’s required form 990s every year since at least 2011. Those forms give us a public record of how much money HGM has reported as income going back to 2007.
That’s where things get interesting
The funny thing is, since AHHF doesn’t have any records but HGM does it raises some serious questions about who exactly paid for Arkansas’ 10 Commandments monument. Rapert has been very careful with his words, saying at the monument’s rededication early this year:
“The Replacement Monument is being installed and gifted to the State of Arkansas by the American History & Heritage Foundation, which has fully funded the project with private donations.”
The thing about saying it that way is that AHHF isn’t taking credit for paying for how the monument was funded ‘with private donations’ the AHHF just facilitated raising those funds. So what happens to the excess funds? Where does that money go?
Well no one rightly knows for sure because the AHHF hasn’t submitted any paperwork to the IRS as far as anyone can tell. But one thing about the paperwork we do have access to jumps out at me as being rather interesting.
The GoFundMe campaign for the monument was started in February of 2016, so I can’t help but find it rather suspicious that in 2016, after three consecutive years of reporting absolutely no income, that Holy Ghost Ministries, Inc suddenly reported an income of $133,000 dollars.
Now Let’s Be Clear About This
Jason Rapert’s ‘day job’ (such as it is, when he’s not being a Senator) is the Founder & President of Holy Ghost Ministries, Inc, which is an evangelical christian church. He is also, as the State Senator representing Conway, AR, the Lead Sponsor of Act 1231, which codified the establishment of the monument into Arkansas law. On top of that, he’s also the president of the American History & Heritage Foundation. So my question is this:
If the American History & Heritage Foundation is just a “passthrough” fundraising non-profit; and if the resultant funds raised become income for Jason Rapert’s ministry; then is he financially benefiting from his own legislation? Because Section 24 of the Arkansas state senate rules says:
24.05 Use of Influence and Knowledge for Personal Gain A Senator, personally or through others, shall not knowingly: (a) Use the influence or knowledge of his or her office to obtain personal or family financial gain other than that provided by law for the performance of the Senator’s legislative duties. (b) Acquire a financial interest in any business which the Senator has reason to believe may be directly affected to its economic benefit by action taken by the Senate. (c) Perform an act that adversely affects a business when the Senator or his or her family has a financial interest in a competing business. (d) Use or attempt to use his or her official position to secure or create privileges, advantages, or special treatment for the Senator’s benefit or the benefit of the Senator’s family unless the enactment or administration of law benefits the public generally. (e) Use public funds or the time or counsel of public employees, for his or her personal or family gain. (f) Use his or her official position by any means to influence a State agency for personal or family gain by the use of express or implied threat of legislative reprisal.
So, if his business (Holy Ghost Ministries) financially benefited from monument that was established by his bill that that should at least raise the question of whether he committed any ethics rules violations.
But even MORE interesting is …
Under AR Code § 5-52-101 an AR state official cannot “Solicits, accepts, or agrees to accept any benefit as compensation or consideration for having as a public servant given a decision, opinion, recommendation, or vote favorable to another person“.
Therefore, if he benefited or was compensated in any way from soliciting donations for the monument his bill established then he may well have broken Arkansas law.
And What About the Lawsuits?
When Jason Rapert rededicated the monument in May he said:
“The sole reason that we donated this monument to the state of Arkansas is because the 10 commandments are an important component to the laws and the legal system of the United States of America, and of the state of Arkansas.”
I’ve already written about the extent to which the 10 commandments play a role in the history of jurisprudence, so I won’t rehash that right now. But to me at least, if it is in fact the case that Rapert used his 10 commandments monument act (and the monument itself) as a fundraising initiative for his Holy Ghost Ministries (which the publicly available paperwork certainly seems to suggest), then I would think at least some kind of investigation should be warranted by both the Arkansas Senate and the Arkansas State Police. That’s up to them though.