November 6, 2017; AL.com
Roy Moore is a former Alabama judge running to fill the Alabama senate seat vacated by Senator Jeff Sessions, who now serves as President Trump’s attorney general. This past week, he has been dogged by allegations that he made sexual advances on teenage girls when he was in his thirties, which has somewhat damaged his candidacy (though not as much as one might think). But even before this, questions arose about the conduct of Moore’s nonprofit, the Foundation for Moral Law.
The organization’s stated goal is “educating the public and promoting current litigation aimed at moral and religious issues.” Moore is, after all, the “Ten Commandments Judge,” who was ousted from the judicial bench in 2003 after he refused to remove a 2.6-ton monument of the Ten Commandments he’d had installed in the courthouse. He was reelected in 2012, but was suspended without pay for the remainder of his term in 2016 “for instructing probate judges to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses, in contradiction to a landmark US Supreme Court ruling,” according to NBC.
The Washington Post reported, “As he fought against litigation to move the monument, friends and allies created an organization they called the Roy Moore Legal Defense Fund and began raising money. The organization’s first application to be recognized as a charity was rejected in 2004 because the IRS determined that it ‘operated for the benefit of private interests.’ The group renamed itself the Foundation for Moral Law and broadened its mission.” That organization got 501c3 approval, and it continues today, lobbying for the hardcore conservative Christian positions Moore espouses.
Moore claimed to be taking no payment from the organization, but according to a Washington Post investigation, he drew a $180,000 salary each year from 2007 to 2012. According to the Post, “[a] review of public and internal charity documents found that errors and gaps in the group’s federal tax filings obscured until now the compensation paid to Moore,” although the 2012 Form 990 shows some compensation being paid.
In October, a group called the Campaign Legal Center requested an investigation “into whether…Moore failed to disclose compensation received in his financial disclosure statement.”
The Post explained,
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[The Foundation for Moral Law] agreed to pay [Moore] in an unusual way. Moore would be paid whatever speaking fees and donations to the charity he could generate through what was called “Project Jeremiah,” the group’s ministry to pastors and preachers. But he was guaranteed $180,000 a year under the agreement, with the charity making up the difference if Project Jeremiah revenue fell short. If the charity did not have the cash in a given year, the debt to Moore would accumulate.
Though the payment system was obscured, the 990 stated plainly the fact that Moore also staffed the organization with his family members. Moore’s wife, Kayla, has served as president for several years, though her salary seems inconsistent; in 2013, the Form 990 reports that she earned $65,000 as the president, but the forms from both 2012 and 2014 claim that she was not paid anything.
Roy and Kayla’s son Caleb is also listed as an executive director and secretary for part of 2012. Caleb Moore told AL.com, “I work in the ministry. I’m part of the foundation…I do work there. I basically draft letters.” Caleb, who was arrested seven times in four years for alcohol and drug-related charges, accused the arresting officers of being “crooked police officers” who were out to smear his father’s reputation, making him perhaps less than an ideal choice to lead a nonprofit organization.
The 2012 Form 990 reflects both the compensation offered to Moore and the names of his family members who sit on the board of the Foundation for Moral Law, but the 2013 and 2014 are a different story. For one thing, Kayla Moore is the only staff person listed; page one says the group has nine “voting members in the governing body” (Alabama law requires three), but no board member or executives are listed, only the president. The foundation’s website also doesn’t list any staff or board members, though the 990 forms list staff salaries as expenses.
There are lots of reasons nonprofits may fear a Moore victory in the Senate race. Former presidential speechwriter Jon Favreau summed up Moore’s sociopolitical positions the week Moore won the Republican primary:
Moore said that homosexual conduct should be illegal, that Representative Keith Ellison shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress because he’s Muslim, that 9/11 and Newtown were punishment from God, that God is sovereign over our government…he said that there’s no such thing as evolution, he referred to Native Americans and Asian Americans as “reds” and “yellows” (that was two weeks ago), he said that some communities in Indiana and Illinois are under Sharia law…when asked whether homosexuality should have the death penalty, he didn’t have an answer.
However, this inability to distinguish between public charity and his own private benefit is another concerning quality in a public servant. As the Campaign Legal Center and the Washington Post dig deeper into the Foundation’s financial records, the transparency required of all nonprofits will be a critical tool in determining the true priorities of this ostensibly Christian-values-driven organization.—Erin Rubin