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Jay Sekulow/Photo by Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/Newcom

Cashing in?

Money | Newspaper challenges Jay Sekulow on ACLJ payments

Issue: "Finding their way," Oct. 8, 2011

Jay Sekulow is a celebrity among evangelicals. He has argued-and won-religious liberty cases before the Supreme Court. His high-profile image as CEO of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and his obvious effectiveness have attracted tens of millions of dollars in donations.

They have also apparently made him rich. An investigative report by the Nashville Tennessean said two charities led by Sekulow-including ACLJ-have paid "more than $33 million to members of Sekulow's family and businesses they own or co-own" since 1998. Sekulow maintains he has worked without a salary from ACLJ since 2002. However, ACLJ and another ministry Sekulow controls have paid more than $15 million to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group (CLAG) since 1998. Sekulow owns 50 percent of CLAG.

It's likely none of these transactions are illegal. But these and other ACLJ practices-such as not having enough outside, independent board members-have been enough to keep them from membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, despite the fact that most of ACLJ's donations come from the evangelical community. The irregular practices and huge sums of money have also invited regular media scrutiny. Legal Times and MinistryWatch.com have both investigated Sekulow since 2005.

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Gene Kapp, a spokesperson for ACLJ, said the accusations in the Tennessean are "flawed and biased" and motivated by a "journalist with an agenda." He also said the article in the Tennessean "is now under legal review by attorneys representing the ACLJ."

Investigative whimper

Sen. Charles Grassley/Harry Hamburg/AP

A two-year investigation of six televangelists by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, ended in January with a whimper. This despite the fact that only one of them (Joyce Meyer Ministries) complied with Grassley's requests for information. Two-Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar-defiantly fought back. In the midst of the investigation, Benny Hinn and Paula White divorced their respective spouses and had to issue public statements denying romantic involvement with each other. Eddie Long of Atlanta's New Birth Church became embroiled in a sex scandal. Long eventually paid undisclosed sums to young men who had filed lawsuits accusing Long of improper sexual conduct with them.

But Grassley, distracted by the banking crisis, did little except call for the creation of a Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations. The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) will oversee the commission, and on Sept. 8 the ECFA announced the formation of a "trio of panels" to look into legal, accounting, and regulatory issues. A total of 66 people were named to the panels, including a religious panel made up of evangelical, Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish leaders.

Charity watchdogs and donor advocates are not impressed. "They have assembled a talented group," said Rusty Leonard of MinistryWatch.com. But he said almost all of them were industry insiders, not truly independent voices: "It is a rather obvious omission that reflects the ECFA's bias toward putting ministry interests before donor interests."

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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