In 2003, when his battle over the Ten Commandments was still in the headlines, then-Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore spoke before a crowd of robed members of the National Clergy Council at Georgetown University in the nation’s capital.
“Many of you lived in a time when it was not wrong to pray in schools, and to say who God was,” Moore told the crowd.
Moore’s speech, a long historical lecture on the reasons why state officials ought to be able to acknowledge God in their official capacity, was similar to the remarks he’s delivered in countless stump speeches across the state in the 14 years since. And according to the National Clergy Council, he wasn’t paid a dime for it.
“No,” said Patty Bills, supporter relations coordinator for the Faith and Action Network, the clergy group’s parent organization. “We don’t pay him for appearances.”
Moore made $57,500 in speaking fees in his last year as chief justice in 2016, and at least $11,000 early in his term, but it’s unclear which organizations actually paid him to speak.
Moore’s speeches have drawn new attention because the Republican former judge — a conservative celebrity after being twice disciplined by the courts for his stances on same-sex marriage and public display of the Commandments — is running for U.S. Senate. He faces Democrat Doug Jones in a Dec. 12 general election.
The Washington Post on Wednesday reported that Moore privately arranged a deal with the nonprofit he created, the Foundation for Moral Law, to receive an $180,000 salary. According to The Post, the group launched “Project Jeremiah,” essentially a speaking tour to pastors and ministers that would generate revenue to pay Moore’s salary.
“Project Jeremiah” didn’t raise enough money to pay Moore’s salary, The Post reported, and Moore ended up with a promissory note for $393,000, backed by the mortgage on the foundation’s headquarters, a historic building on Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue.
Attempts to reach Moore’s campaign and officials of the Foundation for Moral Law for comment on the speaking fees were unsuccessful Thursday. Late Thursday evening, his campaign did release a statement claiming the Washington Post story was full of “distortions and innuendos.” The statement didn’t cite any specific alleged errors in the Post story, nor did it include any information about Moore’s financial transactions.
“It should be noted that the Washington Post is one of the most liberal newspapers in the country,” Bill Armistead was quoted as saying in the statement, which also called the Post and “attack dog against conservatives for the Democrat National Committee.”
Moore, who lives in Gallant, west of Gadsden, has spoken at several Alabama churches in recent years, though it’s unclear whether any were part of “Project Jeremiah.”
“I will tell you without a doubt that this nation was founded on the acknowledgement of God — the God of the scriptures,” Moore said in a 2012 speech at Angel Grove Baptist Church, west of Jacksonville.
Rev. Stan Broom, who pastored the church at the time of the speech, died in 2014. A church staffer on Thursday said Moore wasn’t paid for the 2012 visit.
YouTube videos show Moore speaking at Parkview Baptist Church in Eufaula earlier this year, Kimberly Church of God in Kimberly in 2015, and First Baptist Church in Guin at an undisclosed date. Attempts to reach leaders at each church were unsuccessful Wednesday.
YouTube users have captured speeches by Moore at meetings of other groups, such as the Constitution Party, a political party whose leaders have donated individually to Moore’s past campaigns. Attempts to reach party officials were unsuccessful Thursday. So too were attempts to reach the leaders of Vision Forum, a group that hosted a 2008 gathering dubbed “the Witherspoon School of Law and Public Policy,” at which Moore read a poem he’d written. There’s no evidence Witherspoon was an actual law school. The group is still listed as “active” by the secretary of state’s office in Texas, where it was founded — but according to accounts in the press, it was shut down after one of the group’s leaders was sued for alleged sexual abuse.
As chief justice, Moore made $181,000 per year. The Court of the Judiciary suspended him in September 2016, after he told probate judges to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.
At the time, Moore’s lawyers argued that the suspension left Moore unable to earn a living. He didn’t receive a salary while suspended, and judicial ethics rules prohibited Moore from practicing law while still officially a judge.
Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, in a statement released Wednesday said “Alabamians can’t trust Moore to look out for anyone but himself.”