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Jay Sekulow's Golden Ticket
Just the week before, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the
American Center for Law and Justice, had cheerfully
predicted that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers had
"turned the corner" and would never withdraw her name from
Now, a few hours
after Miers proved him dead wrong
sounded as upbeat as ever. "She did the noble thing,"
Sekulow told the million-plus people listening to his
daily radio show on Christian stations last Thursday,
adding, confidentially, "I saw this coming." The next
nominee, he predicted, would be a sitting judge just as
worthy of support as Miers.
It was vintage Sekulow: gliding over contradictions,
pleased to be a player in nomination politics, and more
than ready to play again. In recent weeks, Sekulow, the
leading Supreme Court advocate of the Christian right,
emerged as the steadiest and most visible of a dwindling
number of social conservatives willing to support Miers.
Because of that steadfast loyalty, he is likely to play a
key role in campaigning for whoever replaces her.
"Jay has clearly succeeded in becoming closely linked to
the Bush administration and has become a principal
salesman for Bush nominees," says Elliot Mincberg, legal
director of People For the American Way.
This is the public Jay Sekulow, the man who has become a
familiar face on television in recent months and who has
been a fixture in Washington legal circles as head of the
ACLJ, an organization founded by religious broadcaster Pat
Robertson in 1990.
But there is another side to Jay Sekulow, one that, until
now, has been obscured from the public. It is the Jay
Sekulow who, through the ACLJ and a string of
interconnected nonprofit and for-profit entities, has
built a financial empire that generates millions of
dollars a year and supports a lavish lifestyle � complete
with multiple homes, chauffeur-driven cars, and a private
jet that he once used to ferry Supreme Court Justice
That less-known side of Sekulow was revealed in several
interviews with former associates of his and in hundreds
of pages of court and tax documents reviewed by Legal
Times. Critics say Sekulow�s lifestyle is at odds with
his role as the head of a charitable organization that
solicits small donations for legal work in God�s name.
For example, in 2001 one of Sekulow�s nonprofit
organizations paid a total of $2,374,833 to purchase two
homes used primarily by Sekulow and his wife. The same
nonprofit also subsidized a third home he uses in North
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
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. And two years ago, Sekulow outsourced his own
legal services from the ACLJ, shifting from a position
with a publicly disclosed salary to that of a private
contractor that requires no public disclosure. He
acknowledged to Legal Times that his salary from
that arrangement is "above $600,000" a year.
Sekulow�s financial dealings deeply trouble some of the
people who have worked for him, leading several to speak
with Legal Times during the past six months about
their concerns � before Sekulow assumed his high-profile
role promoting President George W. Bush�s Supreme Court
"Some of us truly believed God told us to serve Jay," says
one former employee, who requested anonymity out of fear
of reprisal. "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 says: "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."
Still another told Legal Times, "The cause was so
good and so valid, but at some point you can�t sacrifice
what is right for the sake of the cause."
Sekulow shrugs off the criticism and makes no apologies.
"I wouldn�t pretend to tell you we don�t pay our lawyers
well," including himself, says Sekulow. "As a private
lawyer, I could bill $750 an hour, but I don�t." He does
lease a jet, he says, and he does sometimes use it to
reach the golf course � but with donors or vendors, he
insists. "We�ve been doing this for 20 years and never had
a blip" of financial irregularity.
Nothing in the relatively loose regulations that govern
nonprofits prohibits family members from serving on
boards, drawing salaries, or spending money. But critics
say the extravagant spending burns up money that Sekulow
solicits from donors for legal causes. Citing the high
cost of litigating Supreme Court cases, Sekulow wrote in a
2003 fund-raising letter, "We are asking God to prompt
every member of the ACLJ to get involved personally in
this effort." He added later, "Please send a generous gift
Bruce Hopkins, a partner at Polsinelli Shalton Welte
Suelthaus in Kansas City, Mo., and author of 11 books on
nonprofit operations and governance, says that Sekulow is
"certainly engaging in practices where higher scrutiny is
Charity watchdog Bennett Weiner agrees that the kind of
family board involvement and transactions with family
businesses that are indicated on the IRS Form 990s filed
by Sekulow�s nonprofits "would lead us to ask questions
and seek more information." Weiner is chief operating
officer of the Better Business Bureau�s Wise Giving
Alliance, which publishes standards for nonprofits. The
ACLJ has not responded to several requests from the
alliance for information. Weiner stressed he could not
comment specifically about the ACLJ.
The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability,
created in 1979 to improve the public�s trust of Christian
nonprofits, also has set standards for its members
requiring independent boards of directors made up of
people "not related by blood or marriage to staff
members." Sekulow�s organizations are not among the
council�s more than 1,100 members.
A review of publicly available tax and court documents,
as well as interviews with several former employees,
paints a stark portrait of Sekulow as a hard-charging man
who emerged from bankruptcy and allegations of securities
fraud in the late 1980s to build a complex network of
personal, business, and nonprofit entities. At times,
those financial dealings have alienated employees and been
criticized in court.
Sekulow, 49, has always been an oddity on the evangelical
landscape. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Jewish parents,
Sekulow still describes himself as a "Messianic Jew,"
meaning he believes Jesus Christ is the Messiah. He says
his Jewish faith never caused him trouble among Christian
His family moved to Atlanta when he was in high school.
Sekulow went to a Baptist college, now known as Mercer
University, partly because it was near home. There,
Sekulow met a student he later described as a "Jesus
freak." The friend urged him to study the Bible, and over
time, Sekulow questioned Jewish beliefs. "As I read, my
suspicion that Jesus might really be the Messiah was
confirmed," Sekulow wrote later.
Sekulow stayed at Mercer for law school and, after a brief
period as an attorney for the IRS, set up a private
practice and real estate business in Atlanta with law
school friend Stuart Roth, who is still a partner in some
of his current dealings. Meanwhile, Sekulow�s religious
views solidified, and he joined Jews for Jesus, eventually
becoming that organization�s general counsel.
It was in that capacity that Sekulow argued his first case
before the Supreme Court, a 1987 dispute involving the Los
Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners, which tried to
stop Jews for Jesus adherents from distributing leaflets
at LAX. Sekulow said he was nervous when his name was
called. "Me, a short Jewish guy from Brooklyn, New York,
went before the justices of the Supreme Court of the
United States," he wrote in an article for the Jews for
Jesus Web site. "God had brought me through that trial."
Sekulow won the case 9-0.
At the time of his successful Supreme Court debut, Sekulow
was also dealing with a trial of another sort. His private
practice, which focused on creating tax shelters and
financial deals for the renovation of historic buildings
in Atlanta, collapsed when investors sued him for
securities violations related to the renovation deals. He
and his firm filed for bankruptcy protection in 1987, and
more than a dozen creditors filed suit. A later story in
the Atlanta Constitution said he left a trail of angry
investors and employees. "God brought Jay to his knees
then," a former employee told Legal Times.
But Sekulow bounced back up, in part by creating a new
nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE),
which still exists today and serves as an important
conduit for funds that finance Sekulow�s activities. "I
almost feel like God raised me back from the dead,"
Sekulow told the Atlanta paper in 1991. "It was a
It was 1990 when Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson
decided to create the ACLJ, and it was no accident that
its acronym was one letter away from that of the American
Civil Liberties Union. "Someone has got to stop the ACLU
in court," said Robertson when he launched the
Robertson continues as unpaid president of the ACLJ�s
board to this day and frequently invites Sekulow to appear
on his "700 Club" show on the Christian Broadcasting
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. Sekulow
assumed full control of the ACLJ a few years later, when
its executive director left. In a statement, Robertson
said, "I meet regularly with Jay Sekulow to discuss the
activities, programs, accomplishments, and general
operations of the ACLJ and affiliated organizations, which
Sekulow built the ACLJ into a formidable legal advocacy
group that helped persuade the courts to give greater
accommodation to religious practices and speech. His
signature legal strategy has been to frame freedom of
religion cases as free speech battles, often � but not
always � with success. He took on cases nationwide, but
nothing matched the exhilaration of arguing before the
Supreme Court, which he has done a dozen times. "That is
what juices me up in the morning," he says.
After the 2000 presidential election, Sekulow began to
work his way into conservative Washington�s inner circle,
forging ties with the White House and Republican Congress
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft is part of Sekulow�s
orbit. In addition to his own lobbying work, Ashcroft
teaches at Robertson�s Regent University in Virginia
Beach, Va., and maintains an office in the ACLJ�s
multimillion-dollar town house behind the Supreme Court.
Ashcroft traveled with Sekulow to Europe in July for a
conference at the European Center for Law and Justice, an
ACLJ affiliate incorporated in France.
But Sekulow reached the pinnacle of D.C. influence earlier
this year when he, along with former White House Counsel
C. Boyden Gray, one-time Federalist Society head Leonard
Leo, and former Attorney General Edwin Meese III � soon
dubbed the "four horsemen" � participated in a weekly
conference call with White House deputy public liaison Tim
Goeglein and others to discuss judicial nominations and
the so-called nuclear option to eliminate filibusters by
Democratic senators of conservative judges.
In a controversial Oct. 6 conference call with
conservatives who had doubts about the Miers nomination,
Sekulow boasted of the recent conversations he had had
with Bush about the need to change the direction of the
courts. Sekulow went on to state bluntly, "I�m involved in
three cases at the Court this term. And believe me, I want
Harriet Miers voting on these critical cases."
Sekulow took on the assignment of shoring up support for
Bush nominees among Christian groups, and he has done so
in a variety of ways. From a studio in the basement of the
center�s D.C. town house, Sekulow has extolled nominees
John Roberts Jr. and, more recently, Miers on his daily
radio talk show, syndicated to 550 Christian radio
stations with more than 1.5 million listeners nationwide.
Sekulow boasts he can reach 940,000 followers by e-mail
within three hours, and several times a year he sends out
upward of 2 million pieces of regular mail. He also has a
weekly television show airing on Christian networks.
Using those same tools, Sekulow is also an accomplished
fund-raiser, according to the Form 990 that the ACLJ, like
other nonprofits, files annually with the IRS. According
to the ACLJ�s 2003 return, the most recent available, it
received $14.5 million in donations that year.
That isn�t the entire story. When donors respond to
solicitations and write out checks to the ACLJ, some of
the money never makes it into ACLJ coffers but instead
winds up with CASE, Sekulow�s separate entity. 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 substantial. CASE reported
receiving nearly $14 million in donations for 2003. Its
board of directors has three members: Jay Sekulow; his
wife, Pam; and his son Jordan, who sometimes appears on
Sekulow�s radio show. The ACLJ also has only a
three-member board: Pat Robertson, who is unpaid; Jay
Sekulow; and Thomas Monaghan, a Kentucky-based lawyer who
was paid $224,995 in salary, benefits, and expenses by the
ACLJ in 2003.
Sekulow serves as chief counsel for both the ACLJ and
CASE. His brother Gary serves as chief financial officer
for both organizations. As one former employee puts it:
"With Gary there, nobody is looking at what Jay is doing.
Nobody." Jay Sekulow notes that his brother is a certified
public accountant. Gary was paid $200,000 by CASE and
$143,699 by the ACLJ in 2003. Gary Sekulow could not be
reached for comment.
Pam Sekulow is not listed on ACLJ tax forms. But CASE
reported to the IRS that she was secretary-treasurer of
that organization with an annual salary of $180,878.
Former employees say that she currently has few
operational duties, but Jay Sekulow, speaking for her,
says she has significant responsibilities, including event
Sekulow says his son Jordan is paid by his company,
Regency Productions, which produces the radio show. His
other son, Logan, has a late-night comedy show that airs
on Christian television networks and is sponsored by CASE.
And what about Sekulow�s own salary? In an interview with
Legal Times in June, Sekulow estimated his salary
to be $275,000, but that appears to be an incomplete
number. In 2002, for example, the ACLJ reported paying him
$255,042, and CASE paid him $228,783, for a total of
In 2003, CASE paid Sekulow $213,098 in salary, according
to its IRS filing, along with an additional $154,643 in
benefits and expenses. Curiously, though, the ACLJ�s tax
filings for 2003 report that Sekulow�s salary from that
group went to zero.
The disappearing-salary mystery is perhaps solved in
another section of the ACLJ�s 2003 disclosure. There, on a
list of independent contractors that the ACLJ paid that
year, a new entity shows up for the first time, the
"Center for Law and Justice," without the word "American"
at the beginning. This new entity received $733,389 from
the ACLJ for "legal services." The ACLJ form offers no
details about the center.
But CASE�s tax form for 2003 is more revealing. CASE paid
the Center for Law and Justice $625,599 that year, also
for legal services. In a supplementary statement
explaining transactions the organization has had with
trustees and directors, CASE states that the Center for
Law and Justice is "a law firm partially owned by the
president and chief counsel" of CASE � in other words, Jay
Sekulow. Together, the ACLJ and CASE paid the center
$1,358,988 in 2003.
Other sources state that the firm was formed by Sekulow
and two others: longtime business partner Stuart Roth,
listed that year as vice president for litigation at the
ACLJ with a salary of $109,250, and Monaghan, a member of
the ACLJ�s board of directors.
Sekulow�s salary from the newly created law firm is no
longer ascertainable from the Form 990, but late last
week, Sekulow confirmed it was "above $600,000."
The bottom line: Sekulow performs legal services as
before, but now he is paid as an outside contractor,
blurring the exact compensation he personally receives
from the groups. One former employee quotes Sekulow as
saying, before the law firm was created, "We�ve got to get
the salaries off the 990s." Sekulow denies making that
If the figure for his salary is accurate, Sekulow would be
the 13th-highest-paid executive of a charitable
organization in the United States � just below the United
Way�s CEO, Brian Gallagher � according to a ranking by the
American Institute of Philanthropy, another charity
Hopkins, the nonprofit expert, says this relationship
involving CASE, the ACLJ, and Sekulow�s law firm could be
viewed as an improper "private benefit" even if Sekulow is
being paid at a reasonable rate. Under this doctrine,
nonprofits are barred from conferring substantial benefits
that "serve private interests" on individuals other than
those the charitable organization is supposed to serve.
Sekulow, asked about the law firm, says it was not created
for deceptive purposes but rather to better protect the
attorney-client relationship between lawyers doing work
for the ACLJ and CASE and their clients. He also says the
law firm has other clients unrelated to the ACLJ or CASE.
Roth too says the goal of establishing the firm was to
protect client confidentiality. Monaghan could not be
reached for comment.
The 2003 filing by CASE reveals several other transactions
between the nonprofit and Sekulow family-owned businesses.
CASE leased an interest in the plane used by Sekulow from
two companies that own the plane. One is a company owned
by Kim Sekulow, Gary�s wife. The company is not named on
the form, but former employees say it is PGMS of Georgia �
a company that also is the agent for syndication of
Sekulow�s radio show. The other for-profit company that
CASE leased the plane from in 2003 is Sekulow�s for-profit
corporation, Regency Productions.
Sekulow created Regency in 1995 to produce his radio show,
and it has become a major source of income for him and his
family. The company figured in allegations of fraud made
in the course of a bankruptcy proceeding filed in the
Western District of Oklahoma last year. Sekulow had been a
member of the board of directors of Amerivision Inc., a
company that provided telephone services to Christian
consumers under the name Lifeline Communications and
donated a portion of revenue back to the Christian
ministries to which the customers belong.
When the firm declared bankruptcy, it claimed in its
filing that Sekulow and other directors had depleted
company funds for personal gain. It alleged that while
Sekulow was on the board of directors, Amerivision paid
more than $5 million to Regency between 1998 and 2000. The
money was payment, the filing said, for Sekulow promoting
Lifeline on his radio show. Because Amerivision did not
get sufficient value in return, the payments amounted to
"fraudulent transfers," the company said.
Beyond that, also while Sekulow was on the board,
Amerivision gave more than $3 million in charitable
contributions to the ACLJ, CASE, and other ACLJ
affiliates, according to the lawsuit. In reply, Sekulow
acknowledged that Amerivision paid "agent commissions" to
Regency and other money to Regency, CASE, and the ACLJ,
but denied any wrongdoing.
Sekulow says the charges were never proved, adding that he
was vindicated because, in April of this year, bankruptcy
Judge Niles Jackson approved a reorganization plan for the
company submitted by a group that included Sekulow. The
company was renamed Affinity 4 and placed under a new
board of directors that includes Sekulow and T.D. Jakes,
the popular Dallas minister and best-selling author who
has also been a visible supporter of Bush in recent
As part of the ACLJ�s plan to expand, five years ago,
Sekulow decided that the Virginia Beach-based group needed
a stronger D.C. presence. In 2001, CASE bought a town
house at 201 Maryland Ave. N.E. The purchase price was $5
Not only was the town house a stone�s throw from the
Supreme Court, but it also looked directly over the ACLU�s
Washington offices at the nearby Mott House. But there was
one small problem: By the time the ACLJ renovated and
opened its new headquarters, the ACLU had left the
location for a building downtown.
Renovations on the Maryland Avenue building were
extensive, totaling more than $1 million, according to
CASE�s 2002 return. One redecorated conference room
featured a mural costing $41,000. But the ACLJ wasn�t
done. That same year it plunked down another $1.5 million
to purchase a residence next door to its headquarters, at
119 2nd St. N.E. Sekulow and his family stay in the house
when they are in Washington.
The D.C. town house is one of three residences used by
Sekulow that were paid for or subsidized by CASE. Another
is a home in Virginia Beach that was bought by CASE for
$852,937 in 2001. The third home, in North Carolina, is
described on CASE�s IRS filings as a "retreat property."
Sekulow says the houses are not for his family�s exclusive
The North Carolina home is itself an interesting study in
how Sekulow operates. CASE sold the home to Sekulow�s
wife, Pam, in 1997. But CASE loaned her the money to
purchase it, according to CASE�s IRS returns. She has not
always made payments on the loan, and CASE�s board, of
which she is a member, has at times forgiven repayment �
an arrangement confirmed by Sekulow. The amount she does
not repay is then reported as income to her � $49,266 in
2003 � on which she pays income tax. Sekulow says the loan
has now been retired. The Sekulows also own a home in
Former employees of Sekulow allege that the multiple homes
were just one part of an over-the-top lifestyle. They say
it was not unusual for Sekulow to drop $800 for lavish
meals at Morton�s, a high-end steakhouse, and that Sekulow
rented luxury suites at the Willard Inter-Continental
Hotel in the days before his Supreme Court arguments.
Along with the private jet came chauffeured cars and added
security, including bodyguards.
But Sekulow says the tales of his extravagance are
overstated. He says he only ate once at Morton�s and that
he stopped rooming at the Willard once his D.C. offices
opened. "We do have a car and a driver," he says, but
maintains this service was mainly used for court
In the past several years a number of staff members have
left the ACLJ and affiliated organizations, believing they
had strayed from their mission and that continuing to work
with Sekulow would violate their Christian ethics. Some
were required to sign agreements that they would never
disclose internal matters about the ACLJ.
In 1998, Sekulow�s high-flying ways brought him in close
contact with Justice Scalia, who was scheduled to give an
address at Regent University in Virginia Beach on the
occasion of its 20th anniversary.
Sekulow offered Scalia the chance to travel from
Washington to the event on a jet then owned by CASE. Was
it appropriate to give a free ride to a Supreme Court
justice before whom Sekulow and the ACLJ regularly argued?
Sekulow says the jet was leased to Regent University, the
host of the event, for that trip as well as for other
occasions � a fact he says was made clear to Scalia.
Sekulow, however, declined to provide a copy of the lease
Asked about the ride, Scalia said through a spokeswoman
that "I honestly cannot remember" the episode. Pat
Robertson also said he could not recall the details but
added that it is "common" for the university to share
transportation resources with related organizations like
the ACLJ and CASE.
It was yet another sign of Sekulow�s expanding clout, but
he shrugs it off as nothing exceptional or improper. "We
had a very pleasant 32-minute flight. That�s it."
Tony Mauro can be contacted at