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Sekulow's charity work worth $33M to family

The Associated Press

Jay Sekulow is a hero to many for his work defending Christians who believe their legal rights are threatened.

But his charity work also has been lucrative, according to an investigation by The Tennessean (http://bit.ly/qBPNPE ).

Sekulow is the principal officer of Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism and the American Center for Law and Justice.

Since 1998, the two legal charities have paid more than $33 million to members of Sekulow's family and businesses they own or co-own, according to the charities' federal tax returns.

It's difficult to know how much Sekulow himself is earning. Even though he is the CEO, chief counsel and a board member at the ACLJ, the group reports that he has taken no salary since 2002.

But in 2009, the last year for which tax forms were available, the ACLJ paid more than $2.3 million to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, a law firm 50 percent owned by Sekulow. 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 ACLJ, told The Tennessean in a written response to questions that the law firm pays Sekulow a salary, but does not disclose the amount. The firm's office address is in a building owned by CASE, Sekulow's other nonprofit, which is controlled by his family. All four CASE board members are Sekulows and another is an officer.

Sekulow, who splits his time between homes in Franklin and the Washington, D.C., area, was running CASE before he became involved in ACLJ in the 1990s. Today both charities operate under the name American Center for Law and Justice and CASE handles the fundraising for both groups. In 2009, CASE collected $43,783,317 in revenue.

Of that, about $11 million was transferred to ACLJ to fund its legal work. About $9 million paid for media work such as Sekulow's radio show, and about $12 million went to educational programs and mailings to ACLJ members. CASE directly paid Sekulow $85,747 that year.

A review of payments from the two charities to the Sekulows since 1998 found:

_ $15.4 million to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, the law firm 50 percent owned by Jay Sekulow.

_ $5.7 million to Sekulow's brother Gary Sekulow for serving as CFO of both the ACLJ and CASE. In 2009, his combined compensation topped $600,000.

_ $2.74 million in private jet lease payments to Regency Productions, a company owned by Jay Sekulow, and PFMS, a company owned by his sister-in-law, Kim Sekulow.

_ $1.78 million to Regency Productions for leasing office space and media production.

_ $1.11 million to PFMS for administrative and media buying services.

_ $1.6 million to Pam Sekulow, Jay Sekulow's wife, including a $245,000 loan from CASE, which she used to purchase a home. The balance of the loan was later forgiven and reported on the nonprofit's tax return as income.

_ $681,911 to Jay Sekulow's sons, Logan and Jordan, for media work and other duties at CASE.

Members of the Sekulow family declined requests for interviews. Hoover, the tax attorney who advises ACLJ, wrote to The Tennessean, "The arrangements between ACLJ, CASE, and companies of which Jay Sekulow has an ownership interest are on terms and conditions more advantageous than the organizations could obtain otherwise."

Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a charity watchdog group, reviewed three years of CASE and ACLJ tax returns. He said nonprofit boards are supposed to be independent and look out for the best interests of donors. That's nearly impossible with so many family members on a board.

"Are they going to operate in the best interest of the family or the best interest of the charity or the public?" he said. "They are only human."

There is also a question of whether the charities should still have tax exempt status. They were founded to fight First Amendment issues, but the groups currently are suing to rescind national health care reform and to block a proposed mosque near ground zero in New York.

Those suits don't contain arguments based on the First Amendment, although Hoover said they still involve First Amendment issues.

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Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com