Jay Sekulow has seen his profile rise recently as President Donald Trump’s attorney, but he’s been raking in big bucks for years as a legal attack dog for the religious right.
The attorney has appeared regularly on Fox News for years, which may partially explain why Trump hired him despite his lack of experience in criminal defense work.
Sekulow served as general counsel for Jews for Jesus in the 1980s, after converting from Judaism while attending a Bible college and then filing bankruptcy over a real estate dispute, reported Bloomberg Businessweek.
He argued his first case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991, when a unanimous ruling found his group had the right to distribute religious literature at Los Angeles International Airport, and he argued a dozen cases there over the next two decades.
Sekulow won high court cases for Christian students who wanted to form a Bible club and anti-abortion activists who wanted to aggressively protest outside women’s health clinics, and he represented the militantly anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and its former leader, Randall Terry, in lower court cases.
He also controls two nonprofit groups that have paid out tens of millions over the years to Sekulow and his family members.
Sekulow serves as chief counsel and chief executive officer of the American Center for Law and Justice, or ACLJ, which was founded in 1990 by Pat Robertson to battle the American Civil Liberties Union.
His brother, Gary, is the group’s chief financial officer and chief operating officer, and his son, Adam, serves as the director of major donors.
The ACLJ reported more than $19 million in contributions and grants for 2015, according to IRS filings, which also showed that Sekulow received no salary from the organization that year.
But the group transferred more than $5 million to the Washington law firm Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, in which Sekulow owns a 50-percent stake, Bloomberg reported.
Sekulow also serves as president of the Georgia-based nonprofit Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, or CASE, which raised more than $52 million in 2015, according to IRS records.
Four of Sekulow’s family members — including his wife, Pam, and Gary Sekulow — serve as the board of directors for CASE, which transferred nearly $16 million to ACLJ and paid almost $1.2 million to businesses owned by Jay Sekulow.
An analysis by The Tennesseean newspaper found ACLJ and CASE had paid out more than $33 million between 1998 and 2011 to members of Sekulow’s family or to businesses they own.
Sekulow boasts that he’s taken no salary from ACLJ since 2002, but he has outsourced his own legal services to the group and became a private contractor.
That role requires no public disclosure of his salary, which he told the Legal Times was “above $600,000 a year.”
“Through the ACLJ and a string of interconnected nonprofit and for-profit entities, (Sekulow) 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 Antonin Scalia,” reported Legal Times.
Former employees complained that Sekulow told them they were doing God’s work, while jetting off at donor expense — on private jets owned by his family — to play golf.
“Some of us truly believed God told us to serve Jay, but not to help him live like Louis XIV,” one former employee said in 2005.