Religious Right Legal Eagle Sekulow Pulls In Big Bucks

Religious Right legal crusader Jay Sekulow has made a comfortable life for himself attacking church-state separation in court – and he’s brought much of his family along for the ride, a newspaper reports.

Nashville Tennessean reporter Bob Smietana decided to look into Sekulow’s operation after he moved some of it to Franklin, Tenn. Sekulow oversees two Religious Right legal outfits – the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE). In 2009, CASE took in $43 million in revenues.

Both groups promote the Religious Right agenda in court. Sekulow had been running CASE for a few years when he was tapped by TV preacher Pat Robertson in 1992 to merge operations and oversee the launch of the ACLJ, a new group Robertson formed. An ACLJ newsletter issued later that year attacked church-state separation under the banner headline, “TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!”

Smietana reported that since 1998, the ACLJ and CASE have paid more than $33 million to members of Sekulow’s family, often through businesses they own or partially own. His report listed the following connections:

• $15.4 million was paid to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, a law firm co-owned by Jay Sekulow.

• $5.7 million was paid to Gary Sekulow, Jay Sekulow’s brother. Gary Sekulow serves as chief financial officer of the ACLJ and CASE. He is paid more than $600,000 annually.

• $2.74 million was paid to lease a private jet to Regency Productions, a company owned by Jay Sekulow, and PFMS, a company owned by his sister-in-law, Kim Sekulow. An additional $1.11 million was paid to PFMS for various media-related services, and $1.78 million was paid to Regency Productions for leasing office space and for media production services.

• $1.6 million was paid to Pam Sekulow, Jay Sekulow’s wife. She also received a loan of $245,000 from CASE, which she used to buy a house that is purportedly used by CASE. The balance of the loan was later forgiven.

• $681,911 was paid to Jay Sekulow’s sons, Logan and Jordan, for media work and other work related to CASE.

Sekulow and his wife own three homes. A house they own in Franklin is valued at $655,000. They also own a house in Norfolk, Va., which they bought in 2005 for $690,000. The third house is located in Waynesville, N.C., and is assessed at $262,800.

Sekulow keeps CASE under tight control. Its board members belong to his family, an arrangement that raises eyebrows among charity watchdog groups.

Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, told the Tennessean that board members are supposed to be independent because their first duty is to the charity, not members of their own family.

“Are they going to operate in the best interest of the family or the best interest of the charity or the public?” Borochoff asked. “They are only human.”

Borochoff recommended that Sekulow add non-family members to the board.

John W. Whitehead, a Charlottesville, Va., attorney who founded the right-leaning Christian legal group the Rutherford Institute in 1982, said he is wary of huge salaries and perks like fancy homes and private jets.

“If you read the New Testament, the founder of Christianity said, ‘I have no place to lay my head,’” Whitehead told the newspaper. “I am aghast at modern evangelism and the money.”

Publicly available tax documents require non-profits like the ACLJ and CASE to disclose executive compensation. But Jay Sekulow’s salary isn’t listed on any of those documents. The Tennessean reported that the ACLJ forms reveal no salary numbers for Sekulow since 2002.

That’s probably because Sekulow has found a way to hide the figure. But, as the newspaper noted, some information does come through. For example, wrote Smietana, “the ACLJ’s 2009 tax form shows it paid $2,382,770 to the law firm 50 percent owned by Sekulow – Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group. The fact that the law firm is half-owned by Sekulow is not found in ACLJ’s tax filings.”

John Hoover, a tax attorney who advises Sekulow, confirmed that the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group pays Sekulow but would not say how much.

Ronn Torossian, a spokesman for the ACLJ, told the newspaper that Sekulow does not live extravagantly.

“You are asking about one of the most successful lawyers in the country whose income is very small and owns a very small home,” Torossian said.