Michael Weinstein Gets a Pay Raise, and Religious Freedom Suffers

In late 2009 this site noted the hypocrisy of Michael Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation over its treatment of Chaplain (LtCol) Gary Hensley.  Weinstein’s researcher, Chris Rodda, said a sermon given by Hensley in a military chapel was “of course…permissible,” while at the same time the MRFF used video of the sermon as a fundraising prop in a list of “violations.”  As has been demonstrated here before, it wasn’t ironic Weinstein was raising money at the expense of the religious freedom he claims to defend.

That article noted Weinstein has reaped heavily from the “non-profit” he founded and runs, allowing him to take home a paycheck of more than $250,000 in 2008 — nearly half of everything his “foundation” received (while Rodda simultaneously begged for donations, claiming Weinstein didn’t “even pay himself a salary”).

Weinstein seemed to take umbrage at the publication of his public financial data and threatened to sue this site for defamation.  He apparently thought it was damaging to his reputation for people to know 46% of his “non-profit’s” funds went directly to him — a shocking number when compared to reputable non-profits as documented at Charity Navigator, for example.  The legal threat seemed to be a weak attempt at intimidation, as it was obvious Weinstein had no viable case and he never moved on the legal threat (though he did file a frivolous complaint with the military, and he has repeated the open-ended threat).  Of course, while he dispenses vitriol with ease, Weinstein apparently wilts in the face of criticism, as he has repeatedly issued legal threats against those who have the gall to point out his hypocrisy.

To the point, Weinstein’s own public documents showed his significant pay, the re-publication of which apparently disturbed him.

It seems Weinstein didn’t learn his lesson.

The very next year, Michael Weinstein, the sole-paid officer of his self-created “foundation,” paid himself a salary of $296,232.  This represents a pay raise of more than 13% over his 2008 salary.  In the same year, his MRFF increased its intake by only 0.95%. 

In 2009, Michael Weinstein’s personal compensation represented 54% of the revenue of his own non-profit foundation.

(After two extensions, Weinstein finally filed his tax papers late in 2010 for the 2009 year, making this the most current information available.)

In justifying his substantial compensation, Weinstein said the development of his pay included “studies of various other organizations and comparable services available elsewhere.”

Can you name any reputable non-profits whose leaders pocket more than half of the money their organization brings in?  Here are some comparable examples:

As another point of reference, Charity Navigator’s analysis of more than 3,000 charities determined the median salary for “mid to large sized US based charities” was less than $150,000, or about half of what Weinstein pocketed – even though his “charity” has expenses that don’t come close to breaching the $3.5 million top mark of a “small” sized charity.  It seems evident Weinstein’s personal compensation from the “non-profit” he created and heads is exorbitant.

Of course, if his contributors don’t mind more than half of the money they give to the MRFF going directly to Weinstein’s paycheck, they remain more than free to contribute.  Some might take issue with his fundraising pleas to “support the troops,” which fail to mention more than half the money funds only his paycheck.  Others might question if his donors should be entitled to a tax deduction, and if the MRFF should remain a tax-exempt 501(c)3, when its greatest financial purpose seems to be paying Weinstein’s salary.  (Someone even recently joked that the MRFF was actually “Mikey’s Religious Fund Foundation.”)

On the topic of raising money, Weinstein’s tax papers seem to indicate the MRFF does a poor job of it.  In 2009 they raised a bit more than $46,000 after direct expenses in their explicit fundraising efforts.  Weinstein’s MRFF, led by Weinstein, then compensated Weinstein for more than $50,000 in fundraising expenses.  Thus, they actually lost money trying to raise money.  (An alternative interpretation is every cent from their directed fundraising went directly to Weinstein.)

Not to fear; it turns out much of the MRFF’s income comes from large grants rather than unique individuals.  In 2009-2010, the Jewish Communal Fund gave Weinstein’s MRFF $115,000 (an increase from the $85,000 they gave the previous year), a single contribution equal to more than 20% of everything the MRFF brought in during 2009.  The JCF donation was not the only grant the MRFF received.

Not including Weinstein’s salary, and assuming the remaining expenses of Consulting, Research, Public Relations, Support, and “other” were all purely for the functional mission of MRFF, the total amount actually spent on the MRFF “mission” is just under $125,000, or less than 25% of the organization’s total expenses.  Notably, Chris Rodda says her role as “Senior Research Director” of the MRFF is her “day job,” so it seems likely her annual pay is a substantial chunk of that $125,000.  Assuming she makes a paltry $25,000 a year in her day job (“research” was $24,600 of the expenses), Weinstein is using only about $100,000 of his organization’s funds to actually perform its functional mission (beyond paying salaries and reimbursing travel expenses).  That’s about 18 cents for every dollar received.

What does Weinstein’s cash flow have to do with advancing religious freedom?  Actually, it’s about as relevant to protecting religious freedom as Weinstein’s MRFF is: not at all.  Despite being paid more than half a million dollars from 2008 to 2009, Weinstein has done nothing notable to advance religious freedom in the US military.  In fact, he’s attempted to do the opposite.

Weinstein criticized the religious freedom of US Marines who asked to be baptized on a beach, presumably because he doesn’t think US military members should be able to be baptized.  He’s sued (unsuccessfully) to prevent a Christian from speaking at a chapel-sponsored prayer event because he wasn’t the right kind of Christian.  He’s equated US Army leadership with racists and rapists when they refused to give an atheist event special treatment over other events.  (He even called them “Christian predators,” despite not knowing what, if any, religion the Army leaders were.)  Despite all the pontificating, he’s actually achieved nothing, other than establishing his own notoriety.

That, however, may very well be the point.

Weinstein has repeatedly hitched his horse to public scandals in what appear to be attempts to gain publicity – and thus funding.  He essentially admitted as much when he appealed to his supporters to scour for awards for which he could be nominated (from his own website):

We are honored to receive any nomination or award, as they not only help to spread MRFF’s vital message, but also help with efforts to raise critically-needed funding.  (emphasis added)

In 2010, for example, he promised to send Korans to the Afghan National Armyvia the US military – if Pastor Terry Jones burned one in Florida – despite the fact the international incident had nothing to do with religious freedom in the US military.  (Weinstein’s organization previously opposed the US military delivering Bibles to US military Chaplains who requested them for their congregations.)  This Koran controversy was wantonly inconsistent with his stated purpose, but it (briefly) connected his name to an international uproar.  Even Weinstein’s self-declared supporters questioned his motives, with some saying they didn’t want their donations used to advocate Islam in the Afghan military, or simply ending their support altogether.

In a separate case, Weinstein told the Advocate he supported the repeal of DADT, as repeal plans were in the news.  When the publication asked him what his relevance was to that cause, Weinstein said it was to be “angry.”

It may be a slight overstatement, then, to say religious freedom “suffers” at the hands of Weinstein’s MRFF, since Weinstein has had no measurable effect on military religious freedom at all.  That hasn’t stopped him from raising money – “critically-needed funding” – in the name of his faux cause, however.  (It also seems the “critical need” is at least 54% Weinstein’s own personal finances.)  Weinstein’s appeals are common, frequent, and apparently exaggerated. 

Specifically, in 2007 Weinstein said “it costs us $75,000 a month to keep [the MRFF] alive,” and he was “lucky” if he got $18-20,000 a month.  He was claiming an annual need for $900,000, and an annual income of $240,000, at most.  In fact, just one month after he made those remarks he would complete a fiscal year in which his expenses were actually about half what he claimed, and his income was double what he said he was “lucky” to bring in.  Weinstein’s hyperbole seems to know no limits.  Every year since 2007 his finances have been similar, but the pleas for money continue.

In fact, there’s even a US Soldier actively fundraising for the “pro bono” MRFF, which, if history holds true, will pay Weinstein about half the money the Soldier brings in.  By contrast, the Soldier likely makes less than $36,000 a year, or a little more than a tenth of Weinstein’s nearly $300,000 salary.  And yet he is raising money for Weinstein.

Michael Weinstein hasn’t done a single thing to advance religious freedom in the US military, despite the fact he says his mission is to “defend the constitutional right of religious freedom…in the [US] Military.”  Then again, his website doesn’t say “religious freedom,” it says his cause is to “battle the far-right militant radical evangelical religious fundamentalists.”

Based on his conduct, it seems Michael Weinstein’s cause isn’t religious freedom.  His cause is his own.

Religious freedom is important to Christians in the military.  The same religious freedom that allows a pagan to burn incense on a military installation in the US also permits a Jewish Soldier to build a Sukkah on a military installation in Iraq, and it also permits Christians to publicly celebrate Easter in a war zone.  Unlike Weinstein, Christians do not fear religious freedom.  Where there is religious freedom, God’s Word will be known.  Truth will prevail, as Thomas Jefferson would say.

There are people and organizations, both in and out of the military, who protect the religious freedoms of US military servicemembers (starting with the chain of command).  Michael Weinstein is not one of them.


  • Aw, JD, is this your idea of payback for me writing about you and what a devoted little Christian fighter pilot you are?

    And, just for the record, the salary that Mikey Weinstein has received from MRFF has not yet even come close to repaying him for the money that he has personally put into MRFF. That’s all Mikey’s salary, which has been approved by the I.R.S., really is — a repayment of the money, some of it on credit, that he personally put into MRFF. JD has known this since December 2009, when I emailed him this information after he posted his first blog posts wrongly accusing Mikey of profiting from MRFF. And JD, of course, just omits that Mikey took no salary at all in 2007, a fact of which he is well aware. And yet JD continues to bear false witness against Mikey. Isn’t there a commandment or something against that?

  • Why doesn’t Mikey just keep his money instead of putting it into his non-profit to pay himself?

  • Nathan, your question would only make sense if what JD is saying is true. So, since what JD is saying isn’t the truth, your question makes no sense.

  • Chris, you said yourself that Mikey’s salary is a repayment of funds he’s put into MRFF. My question makes sense based off that information: why doesn’t Mikey keep his money, instead of putting it into his non-profit and then paying himself with it?

  • Nathan is correct…your words exactly Chris:

    “And, just for the record, the salary that Mikey Weinstein has received from MRFF has not yet even come close to repaying him for the money that he has personally put into MRFF.”

    Are you now saying Mikey doesn’t pay himself?

    Simply put, it’s a shame that Mikey sucks out over 50% from his non-profit.

  • It’s pretty simple, Nathan, and would probably be obvious to you if you gave it a little thought. Mikey has put his own money into MRFF during the times when MRFF needed that money to operate. The times when he has taken a salary, which was in reality just repayment on these loans, are the times when MRFF has gotten in money from donations or grants. Not all of the money that Mikey has put into MRFF, out of his own pocket or by using his personal credit lines and putting himself into debt, has been repaid by what he’s gotten in salary. Not even close. The amount of debt that Mikey is currently in because of MRFF would scare the bejeezus out of most people.

    And, think about this for just a minute. The $24,600 for research that JD points out for one of the years was, in fact, my pay for that year, and my current pay isn’t much more than that. That’s all I was paid for working full-time, and often more than full-time — working days, nights, weekends, and holidays, sometimes for weeks on end without a break. These crazy hours are why I often kid about my job with MRFF being my “day job,” something that JD loves to take out of context to imply that I don’t actually have a real job with MRFF. So, stop for a minute and ask yourself this: Don’t you think, given the very low pay that I work for, that I would be the first to complain if Mikey really was paying himself what JD claims he is paying himself?

  • Chris,

    Are you saying that the only accurate source of information about Weinstein’s true financial status is from you and only in that context should we interpret the public information?

  • Dealer … I really don’t expect you or JD’s other devoted followers to believe me, and I really don’t care whether you do or not. I know that if JD’s lies start to spread from his little blog here and begin to affect the foundation, Mikey can easily supply the proof that JD is lying. In the meantime, if anyone happens to stumble upon this post, they will see from my comments that there is a simple explanation for the numbers on MRFF’s tax forms, and see JD’s post for what it is — just another example of his misrepresenting the facts to feed his obsession with making Mikey and MRFF look bad.

  • What part of $296,232 is a lie?

  • So I think I understand this….

    It takes money to run an organization/business, so:

    Mikey used his personal monies (aka “loans” from his USAF retirement pay, savings, credit cards and maybe cashed in a few CD’s etc) to get and keep MRFF running, then gets donations and pays himself back from these donations, calls it salary? The cycle repeats [to some degree]. Makes sense to me.

    My outlaws owned a business, started it with their own money. Hired people, bought equipment, payed salaries and made a profit. They payed themselves too. When money was tight due to slow business they had to take less in salary for a while to keep things afloat, then payed themselves back when business got better. Sounds very much like what Chris described for Mikey.

    I would bet pickles to navy beans Mikey’s records are pretty much spotless, he’s probably got to defend his expenses, loans, donations and repays up the wazoo. I’m pretty sure Uncle Sam would be crawling up his shorts if they thought there was any deceit. Because we do not have purview into all of the records, I will give him the benefit of the doubt that what he is doing is above reproach…unless some can prove otherwise (tax forms alone just don’t cut it).

    Lastly, I don’t know how you can say that Mikey has had no measurable effect on military religious freedom at all JD, I have 53 people on speed-dail that will tell you otherwise. Likewise, I know several, but not a lot, of people that say your blog JD is one of their favorites to read on Military religious issues and news stories. Sorry to say not all of them donate to the “cause” but they are enjoying the support and dialogue from both camps. Go figure.

    What was this all about again?

  • Interesting discussion. Some important points:

    @Chris Rodda

    all Mikey’s salary…was in reality just repayment on these loans…

    As a paid employee of the MRFF, you probably don’t want to say that publicly. The MRFF is required by law to report loans/accounts payable to officers, and it reported no such relationships. You seem to be implying the MRFF is using “creative accounting” to repay former contributions by a current officer. This might run counter to IRS rules on benefits to disqualified persons (ie, a person who runs the organization). Your description does not meet the IRS definition of “compensation,” which is how Weinstein reported his pay.

    Tales of Weinstein’s prior financial contributions to his own non-profit only undermine your argument, because being re-paid for what you call “these loans” while not reporting it to the IRS as such is no more commendable than taking more than half of his donations as pay. You’ve only dug your hole deeper.

    omits that Mikey took no salary at all in 2007

    His pay status in 2007 has no bearing on his pay status in 2009, which is the topic here. But since you brought it up, Charity Navigator says this (formatting original):

    Be skeptical of charities that report zero CEO compensation.
    There are very few individuals that can afford to work full-time managing complex, multimillion dollar organizations without receiving any compensation…We recommend you contact it directly…to learn how it has been able to attract and retain a competent leader without paying that individual. It might have a legitimate answer. However, it may be that the charity failed to appropriately report the CEO’s salary to the IRS…

    The implication, of course, is the CEO (or president, in this case) is being compensated without it being reported as such. Any proof you provide that Weinstein received no direct or indirect compensation of any kind from his own non-profit in 2007 will be posted here. (His 2007 tax forms do indicate his salary was $0, but they do not reveal if any other funds were transferred between the MRFF and Weinstein.) Again, this is unrelated to his astounding 2009 pay.

    since what JD is saying isn’t the truth…Mikey can easily supply the proof that JD is lying.

    You have failed to address Lt Frank’s question: What in the article above is untrue?

    they will see from my comments that there is a simple explanation for the numbers on MRFF’s tax forms

    Your comments contradict the MRFF tax forms. So who should the public believe: The signed-under-penalty-of-perjury tax documents, or the comments of the MRFF representative on a blog?

    You’ll note that in her rebuttal Rodda never tried to claim Weinstein earned 54% of his charity’s revenue during the 2009 tax year. Wouldn’t that be a natural response to such a query? By not simply claiming it was reasonable compensation for the work conducted in 2009, she has essentially admitted it wasn’t.

    Rodda’s excuses still fail to explain how a charity’s president could justifiably take more than half of his donations as pay.

    making Mikey and MRFF look bad…

    Weinstein does a pretty good job of that without any help. Your apparent need to post here to justify his compensation is evidence of that.


    I will give him the benefit of the doubt that what he is doing is above reproach…unless some can prove otherwise (tax forms alone just don’t cut it).

    That seems like a fair statement, but as a 501(c)3, the tax forms are designed to keep charities “above reproach.” Weinstein is free to publish more documents if he thinks it helps his cause.

  • Keep trying, JD. It really is pretty amusing to picture you sitting there spending endless hours racking your brain trying to come up with this crap.

  • @Chris…I’m trying to be objective here and see it from both sides, however you continually launch insults without addressing your charges with facts.

    Be specific: What lies did JD state?

    If, in fact Mikey “loaned” money to MRFF and repaid himself, he is required to document that. I’m sure you’ve seen that documentation, correct? If so, just how much did Mikey loan to MRFF and just how much did he “repay” himself? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • Chris Rodda :
    Keep trying, JD. It really is pretty amusing to picture you sitting there spending endless hours racking your brain trying to come up with this crap.

    Chris, answering JD’s critique with personal attacks reflects poorly on both you and the MRFF. If you don’t want to answer the questions he’s put forward, that’s fine, but personal attacks of this nature are beneath you.

  • Why is MRFF not listed in Charity Navigator?

  • Charity Navigator only rates charities with revenue >$1M. Since the MRFF brings in only half that, it doesn’t break the threshold for their review…despite the fact Weinstein’s salary is twice the median of the “small” charities they do rate.

  • From Chris: “The amount of debt that Mikey is currently in because of MRFF would scare the bejeezus out of most people.”

    Sounds like a poorly managed charity, or one that doesn’t really have any support.

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