Jay Sekulow, a confederate of TV preacher Pat Robertson and an increasingly important operative for the Bush administration’s drive to remake the federal courts, has used non-profit groups to finance a high-flying lifestyle for himself and members of his family, a national newspaper has reported.
Legal Times reporter Tony Mauro wrote last month that Sekulow has quietly amassed a personal fortune through his connections to two non-profit legal groups, earning an annual salary well over half a million dollars and maintaining three homes that were purchased for him by the organizations.
Sekulow is apparently aware that his dealings look suspicious and even tried to hide his salary from Legal Times. As Mauro explains, Sekulow stated in an interview in June that his salary was $275,000 a year. But Mauro discovered that figure did not include compensation from another group Sekulow runs. Added together, Sekulow’s salary was far higher, and he later conceded his salary now exceeds $600,000 yearly.
The Robertson attorney was making so much money that he arranged to work for the ACLJ as an independent contractor, so that his salary does not have to appear on publicly reported 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 remarked, “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 told the paper, “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.” (The former employees spoke anonymously to Legal Times because they fear reprisals.)
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, but 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.”
The amounts involved are not trifling. 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.”
The legality of all of this is questionable. 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.”