The comments from Prevo, a Liberty administrator who took over as president after Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned last year, raise new questions about the blurred line between education and politics at the university, which, as a charity 501 (c) (3) is not intended to participate directly in political campaigns.
In the appeal, Prevo said he wanted the center, which Lamb was tasked with overseeing, “to be more effective than Ralph Reed,” referring to the prominent leader of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, an advocacy group. conservative.
On the call, Lamb rebuffed the idea that the university should advocate for specific applicants and said there had previously been concerns about violating its nonprofit tax status.
“I have a 50c3 church,” Prevo said in response, according to the recording. “For 30 years, I have been able to manage this and not get into trouble. The gay community has been trying to bring me down for at least 30 years, and they haven’t been successful because I know how to work the 50v3.
Lamb was fired by Liberty in early October, which he said was partly linked to his concerns about possible violations of the university’s 501 (c) (3) status. He also alleged, in a federal lawsuit filed on Monday, that Liberty had fired him in retaliation for concerns he raised about the university’s handling of reports of sexual assault and harassment.
Lamb said in an interview that he believed Prevo, on the taped call and on other occasions, was asking him to do things that could have jeopardized the university’s status as a 501 charity. (c) (3). He said he interpreted Prevo’s comments to mean that “the president of the university is asking its senior vice president to elect ‘our people’ this fall.”
Lamb said he believed Prevo’s direction to him crossed a line.
“He’s telling me to do things we can’t do,” Lamb said.
Liberty University has pushed back Lamb’s characterization of his conversations with Prevo.
“President Prevo knows the limits set by the IRS for political engagement of 501 (c) (3) organizations, even though Scott Lamb does not know them,” a university spokesperson said in a statement. . “The IRS recognizes that conservative 501 (c) (3) organizations can legally register and kick out conservative voters in hopes of having a more conservative government. The same goes for the 501 (c) (3) s liberals. They can also work against bad legislation, even with the help of a former president. “
The university also said its internal policy on political engagement “actually has stricter limits than federal law.” The spokesperson provided a copy of that internal policy, which he said Prevo emailed to university leaders earlier this year.
“Whatever the tapes say, they are not a substitute for university policy,” the spokesperson said.
Universities and other 501 (c) (3) nonprofit charities are not permitted to engage in political campaigning activities under federal tax law. These organizations “are absolutely prohibited from participating directly or indirectly in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elected public office,” according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Falwell, who resigned last year amid questions about his role in his wife’s affair with a former pool assistant and other allegations of impropriety, has faced complaints for using college funds to help former President Donald Trump and other Republicans, including paying for the campaign season. ads that Facebook believed to be political in nature. One ad featured the image of Trump and called on people to “pray for our president.” Another featured a beaming photo of North Carolina congressional candidate Madison Cawthorn, according to a POLITICO investigation.
Some professors and students have expressed strong objections to the university’s partisan political activities, arguing that the university should once again focus on religion over politics.
But Prevo’s comments suggest Liberty may continue and possibly step up his involvement in politics, which was a key part of Falwell’s tenure. Falwell was the first evangelical leader to support Trump, a non-evangelical Christian, at a time when he was running against many Republicans with close ties to the evangelical movement.
Lamb also provided POLITICO with information on an April 2021 meeting held at the university on mobilizing Christian opposition to Democratic voting rights legislation and expanding federal anti-discrimination laws to protect people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The meeting, which focused on organizing against this legislation, known as HR 1 and HR 5 respectively, brought together conservative heavyweights such as Mike Pompeo, who served under Trump as secretary of State and could run for president in 2024. Also in attendance were Prevo and Jonathan Falwell, brother of the former president of Liberty.
Televangelist Paula White, who was chair of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board, connected Trump to the meeting on her cell phone.
“The election was a disgrace,” Trump said. “It was, like, from a third world country. … It was a rigged and stolen election and people know it. A considerable number of people know this. I can tell you the Republican Party knows that. Mitch McConnell did a lousy job. He gave us no support. This is one of the things that I guess people are talking about.
Trump also told his audience that his administration has done more for Christians than any other administration. However, he told them, there is still work to be done. Christians could be “stronger”.
“If the people of faith would come together … [they’re] the largest voting block there is. It’s taller than both men and women. This is something that I hope you discuss. But we are really in a position where, because of the results of this rigged election, we are really in a position where we have to come out and we have to be very strong and very smart, because all that we got … and we have had more than, I would say, Paula, more than anyone has ever done in terms of faith or in terms of religion and religious community. And that means all religions. We have done so well and a lot is going to be picked up by this administration. “
The former president then thanked White for an “incredible job” on the election. “We had more evangelical votes than anyone thought possible,” he said, and said this time around evangelicals had more “spirit,” suggesting he would get more of their votes in 2024.
Just before hanging up, White said to the former president, “We’re on your side.”
In March, Liberty University hired Glenn Clary, president of the Alaska GOP, as vice president of strategic partnerships and alliances. According to her academic profile, Clary works directly with Prevo “to identify, facilitate and execute partnerships with individuals and organizations to advance Liberty University’s mission, strategic plan and spiritual direction.”
Clary and Prevo are both ministers. They have known each other for over 40 years. During Clary’s tenure as president, the Alaska Republican Party censored Senator Lisa Murkowski for voting to convict Trump in his impeachment trial.
For some former Liberty officials, bringing Clary into a newly created role indicates that the university president is interested in keeping the university active in political circles.
“Prevo is no different from [Jerry] Jr. when it comes to supporting Republican politics and using [Liberty] as a platform, ”a former Liberty executive told POLITICO on condition of anonymity.