According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Virginia Gov. James Gilmore should reconsider his decision to appoint TV preacher Pat Robertson to a business development board because Robertson is under investigation in the state for alleged unethical business practices.
Last summer, the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs issued a report to Attorney General Mark Earley, examining allegations that Robertson's tax-exempt charity, Operation Blessing, was misusing the organization's airplanes to assist Robertson's diamond-mining operation in Zaire (for more background on these allegations, read the Church & State story from the June 1997 issue). Yesterday, Gilmore appointed Robertson to the board of directors of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.
"We have been informed this morning that this matter is still under investigation, and lawyers in the consumer division of the attorney general's office are currently reviewing the allegations," Lynn said in a letter sent to Gilmore today. "With these serious legal matters still unresolved, it is imperative to wait and see the results of the investigation before appointing Mr. Robertson to an important state board relating to business practices.
Lynn noted that the governor may be under political pressure on this matter, in light of Robertson's contributions totaling over $100,000 to Gilmore's campaigns for attorney general and governor in recent years. "However," Lynn added, "I am confident of your ability to put the interests of the public far ahead of any political allegiances.
"To appoint Robertson now, while he is under investigation, sends a terrible message to the public that your office lacks a commitment to taking the inquiry seriously," Lynn concluded. "Accordingly, the only appropriate course of action is to rescind Robertson's appointment to the state board, or at a minimum, suspend the appointment until the investigation is completed."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.