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:
- The Rutherford Institute – the civil rights organization defending one of Weinstein’s targets – had revenue of $1,667,424 in its fiscal year ending in June 2010. It paid President John Whitehead $162,543, which accounts for 9.7% of the organization’s revenue.
- Barry Lynn, Executive Director of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State – a frequently Weinstein ally – earned $186,045 according to their 2008 filing. The AU brought in more than $6.6 million that year (Lynn’s cut: less than 3%).
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 Army – via 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.