The faith-based organization behind the National Prayer Breakfast is vigorously denying new allegations from an Ohio clergy group that foreign trips and other activities with Members of Congress may have been funded with money from a terrorist organization.
The allegation grows out of a guilty plea lodged in July by former Rep. Mark Siljander (R-Mich.), who was charged with concealing that he had been hired by the Sudan-based Islamic American Relief Agency to convince the Senate Finance Committee to remove the group from a list of organizations suspected of funding terrorist activities.
The indictment and guilty plea explain that the IARA wrote two $25,000 checks to cover Siljander’s costs but that in order to cloak the payments, the checks were made out to the International Foundation, which cashed the checks and then paid the money to Siljander.
The International Foundation, also known as the Fellowship Foundation, has extensive ties to Capitol Hill. The group is affiliated with a house on C Street where several Members of Congress have lived. It organizes regular prayer meetings for Members and other influential government figures, and — as Roll Call reported in June — it has provided Members with just over $100,000 worth of foreign travel since 2000.
The foundation has little formal structure and only in the past few weeks launched a website making a public declaration of its purpose and mission.
Clergy VOICE, a group of Columbus, Ohio-based ministers, filed a complaint Tuesday with IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman suggesting that the IRS should revoke the foundation’s tax-exempt status based in part on the details spelled out in the Siljander plea.
Clergy VOICE notes that its investigation was the basis for an April complaint filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington alleging that the Fellowship Foundation was providing below-market rent to Members of Congress at the C Street residence. The Office of Congressional Ethics dismissed that complaint.
In the new complaint to the IRS, Clergy VOICE points out that the indictment and guilty plea account only for the foundation paying Siljander $18,337 of the IARA money, which leaves the possibility that the remaining $31,663 may have been used for other foundation activities, including funding Congressional overseas travel or expenses for the C Street location.
“The Foundation continues to provide these travel funds and residential facilities to Members of Congress, and we are concerned that money arising from a terrorist organization has been used in conjunction with these expenses,” the group wrote.
The foundation is normally reluctant to discuss its activities, but President Richard Carver called Roll Call Wednesday to vehemently deny the Clergy VOICE complaint.
“This really kind of upsets me to be very honest about it,” Carver said. “Somebody is attempting to distort the truth substantially.”
Carver said the Fellowship Foundation houses about 200 ministry projects, each of which is responsible for raising its own money. The foundation simply serves the function of gathering the donations and disbursing them, much the way other church groups manage the funds for their missionaries.
Carver provided an e-mail from the foundation’s accounting firm that said, “The accounting records indicate that 100% of the funds received from IARA were distributed to Mark Siljander in the form of wages and benefits.”
Carver was unable to provide the records to Roll Call.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.