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Donor Alert: 'ACLJ' Is Two Charities Dominated by One Family

   Jul 19, 2017

Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE), which according to its mission “is specifically dedicated to the ideal that religious freedom and freedom of speech are inalienable, God given rights,” raised over $51 million in total cash contributions in 2015. More than 70% of that $51 million came via direct mail and telemarketing services provided by professional fundraisers. Perhaps you have been solicited through the mail or over the phone to give to CASE. That name, however, may not be ringing a bell since CASE goes by “American Center for Law and Justice” or “ACLJ” to raise funds (not to be confused with the “ACLU,” American Civil Liberties Union, a distinctly different organization).

It is not at all strange for a charity to use a “doing business as” name that differs from its official name, as CASE does by using ACLJ. What is odd – and quite confusing – in CASE’s case is that there is another charity that has the official name American Center for Law and Justice. That charity, which describes that it “is committed to ensuring the ongoing viability of freedom and liberty in the United States and around the world,” was founded by the televangelist Pat Robertson, who continues to serve as its board president. The officially named American Center for Law and Justice lists “ACLJ - National” as its “doing business as” name on its tax forms, but it also lists the exact same website, www.aclj.org, as CASE. Essentially, CASE and ACLJ - National are both “ACLJ” to the public, and the similarities between the two charities do not end there.

An analysis of the CASE and ACLJ - National financial audits and tax forms brings to light a number of connections that make CharityWatch question how the two charities can be operating as separate entities, or in the least, how they are not being reported as related organizations. A straight-forward connection between the two ACLJs is that ACLJ - National relies on CASE for the vast majority of its funding. In fact, 93% of ACLJ - National’s total revenue in fiscal 2016 (ending March 31st) came from grants by CASE. From CASE’s side, the more than $16.8 million it granted to ACLJ - National in 2015 represented close to 61% of CASE’s cash-based program spending (less joint solicitation costs) for its fiscal year ending December 31st. The fact that almost all of ACLJ - National’s funding comes through CASE and not directly from the general public is the reason why CharityWatch provides a rating for CASE, but not for ACLJ - National. Nevertheless, donors to CASE should be aware of its funding commitment to ACLJ - National, which includes a grant agreement requiring weekly payments of $338,500 by CASE (or approximately $17 million a year), according to ACLJ - National’s fiscal 2016 audit.

Funding relationship aside, it is the family connections between and within the two ACLJs and the associated related party transactions that raise a red flag for CharityWatch. CASE reports having only four board members in 2015, all of which consist of the Sekulow family – Jay Sekulow, his wife and his two sons. Furthermore, three out of the four CASE officers are Sekulows, including Jay who is President and Jay’s brother, Gary, who is the Chief Financial Officer/Chief Operating Officer (CFO/COO). ACLJ - National has only three board members, one of which is Jay Sekulow, who is also Chief Counsel, according to its fiscal 2016 tax filing. Gary Sekulow also is an ACLJ - National officer, the COO/VP of Finance, similar to his position at CASE. Somewhat inconceivably, it is reported that Gary averages 40 hours of work per week at each of the ACLJs, and he is compensated by both, being paid over $921,000 in total salary and benefits in 2015 (about $631,000 from CASE and $290,00 from ACLJ - National). Additionally, Gary’s son, Adam, reportedly works at both CASE and ACLJ - National as Director of Development Services and Director of Major Donors, respectively, being paid almost $233,000 in combined total salary and benefits in 2015. If ACLJ donors only review the tax filings for CASE, they would not realize the ACLJ - National overlapping Sekulow board members, officers and employees, nor the extent of their total annual compensation from both charities.

The apparent influence of the Sekulow family within each of the ACLJs also seems to account for the troubling related party transactions among the charities and Sekulow owned companies, two of which are reported by CASE and one by  ACLJ - National for their fiscal year ended 2015 and 2016, respectively. CASE reports paying $1,157,000 for services to a media production company owned by Jay Sekulow and $777,400 in radio agency fees to a company owned by Gary Sekulow’s wife, Kim. Much more substantially, ACLJ - National paid $5,033,297 for services to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, P.C., a law firm where Jay Sekulow is a senior partner and 50% owner. Therefore, in just a single reporting year, the ACLJs paid almost $6.2 million combined to for-profit companies in which Jay Sekulow has an ownership interest.

With Jay and Gary Sekulow holding key positions at each of the ACLJs, and with over 90% of ACLJ - National’s revenue being provided by CASE, whose board consists entirely of Sekulow family members, it is highly unlikely that either of the ACLJs could effectively challenge any decision made by the Sekulows. Therefore, the Sekulow family is in a position of dominance over both charities.

Both The Guardian and The Washington Post have recent stories about the ACLJs and the millions they have steered to the Sekulow family over the years. (Jay Sekulow joined President Trump’s team of personal lawyers in June 2017.) Additionally, in late June 2017, the attorneys general of New York and North Carolina announced that they are examining the operations of CASE.

The potential confusion caused by the two ACLJs and the concerning related party transactions with the Sekulows should give donors pause. As CharityWatch President, Daniel Borochoff, told The Washington Post:  “It’s more like a family business than a public charity … You would have to have a lot of trust in this family in order to want to give them your money.”

Daniel Borochoff also can be heard on NPR’s “All Things Considered” discussing the questions raised by the two ACLJs and the Sekulow family.

For more on the Sekulow family and ACLJ charities, see our article posted on February 20, 2018: Conflicts of Interest Are a Red Flag for Donors: Some Charities Insiders May Take Unfair Advantage of Their Position.

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