In the midst of the Great Recession, poor Christians started getting phone calls warning them of dangers more pressing, even, than the state of the economy. There were whispers of sharia law, the threat Obama posed to Judeo-Christian values, and the possibility that Planned Parenthood could be opening up abortion clinics not just near, but inside middle and high schools. A small donation, anything they could spare, would help a faith-based nonprofit known as Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case) defend America against these perils. In fact, the millions of dollars made off these televangelism campaigns went to the man now best known as one of Donald Trump’s attorneys, one Jay Sekulow.
Sekulow founded Case in 1988, and that wasn’t the only page he took from televangelist Pat Robertson’s book. Before he worked for Trump, Sekulow worked for Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice, which Salon describes as “the Christian conservatives’ answer to the American Civil Liberties Union.” Sekulow built a reputation for his work against abortion and same sex marriage, and not just in the United States — he was even involved in campaigns in Africa to criminalize homosexuality and shape public policy based on Christian teachings.
Sekulow’s work on conservative causes landed him on Fox News occasionally, which put him right in Trump’s field of vision, and lead to Sekulow’s current position as Trump’s defense attorney. It might seem like an odd move to have a lawyer whose primary experience is in First Amendment law and conservative causes suddenly shift to working on building a defense for the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe, but in other regards the match makes perfect sense. After all, Sekulow has a deep understanding of President Trump’s base — they’re the exact same demographic that Sekulow has been wheedling for donations for over twenty years through Case.
There are other similarities, too, that suggest Sekulow and Trump get one another. Like the Trump Organization and the Eric Trump Foundation, the board and executive positions at Case are a Sekulow family affair. The Sekulows have been savvy in how Case is set up, and despite concerns about conflicts of interest and nonprofit regulations, it’s hard to tell just how much of the donated money Case pulls in is going to finance the Sekulow family lifestyle. The Guardian pulled numerous documents and records and found that their business holdings are a maze of real estate transactions (not unlike the real estate dealings of another Trump associate, former campaign manager Paul Manafort). Properties are passed back and forth between the family and Case, and the board has approved loans to Sekulow family members out of Case’s pool of cash, only to forgive them later as part of “compensation” packages.
However obscured the ledgers, when the family’s assets include a private jet, you know their various business dealings are rallying big money. Eyebrows have definitely been raised — Arthur Rieman of Law Firm for Nonprofits notes, “That kind of money is practically unheard of in the nonprofit world, and these kinds of transactions I could never justify.” But if you ask anyone at Case what’s going on, they might simply respond with what they told their donors, a script that reads: “We are dependent on God and the resources He provides through the gifts of people who share our vision.” The IRS might not buy that one if they one day choose to investigate.