My Faith Votes: Evangelical Nonprofit Strains Meaning of “Non-Partisan”
My Faith Votes bills itself as “a non-partisan movement that motivates, equips and activates Christians in America to vote in every election.”
“We don’t tell people who to vote for,” said CEO Jason Yates in a Fox News interview.
But MFV, founded in 2015, has aggressively promoted Trump to evangelical voters since 2016, when Yates organized a game-changing meeting. “A Conversation with Donald Trump and Ben Carson” was designed to introduce then-candidate Trump to hundreds of conservative Christian leaders. In a press release, Yates said the meeting would “strengthen relationships and build unity” before the 2016 election. He has never organized any meetings with Democrat candidates.
And during a September 2021 call with Donald Trump’s evangelical advisors, the former president challenged Yates, a longtime member of the group, to rally believers to support Trump, his policies, and his chosen candidates in 2022, 2024, and beyond.
“All I can tell you is that I think we have to have a great election and we have to have a powerful vote,” Trump said during the call. “If we don’t have a very powerful vote, then Jason, I’ll be talking to you in the future, but it won’t be very positively.”
A week later, MFV unloaded on President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates in a press release that claimed Biden “has disregarded the Constitution and shaken our nation’s foundation by stealing our freedoms out from under us.”
MFV more than quadrupled in size between 2019 (income of $2.5 million) and 2020 (nearly $12 million), and according to its website, the influx of cash allowed it to:
- Mobilize more than 5,500 volunteers and partners who made 59 million voter contacts;
- Rally churches across 49 states through its OurChurchVotes.org, which provides pastoral toolkits, sermons, discussion guides, and materials for voter registration;
- Reach more than 500,000 students on 255 Christian college and universities campuses;
- Create voter guides and resources for all 100,000 elections across the country, which were accessed more than 2.1 million times;
- Identify and target 2.8 million “low propensity Christian voters” in 10 key swing states;
- And send out 13.7 million text messages, 1.3 million postcards, 40 million emails, and social media resulting in 117 million Facebook impressions.
- Publish a series of issue-oriented “What Does the Bible Say?” booklets on border control and immigration, gun control, feminism, and transgenderism.
“The politician in me sees a powerful voting block waking up,” said Former Republican governor Mike Huckabee, MFV’s honorary chairman, in MFV’s 2020 annual report.
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MFV is active in state and local races, including Virginia’s current governor’s election, promoting Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin in Facebook posts, and in a video featuring Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson urging Virginians to “get off your bump” and “vote for the godly” candidate who opposes abortion. “If they practice perversion, don’t vote for ‘em.”
At the same time, MFV has criticized Democrats in Virginia of embracing a “double standard” for promoting Democrat Terry McAuliffe in churches in violation of the Johnson Amendment, the rarely enforced 1954 rule that was weakened when President Trump signed an executive order requiring the federal government to stop enforcing it.
MFV has regularly issued press releases praising Trump and demonizing Democrats, and these releases say, “Jason Yates is available for interviews. Direct inquiries to email@example.com.” But the public relations firm The Kairos Company, which is led by Johnnie Moore—a member of MFV’s leadership team and a longtime member of Trump’s evangelical advisory group—did not respond to half-a-dozen emails and calls from MinistryWatch over the past two weeks. MFV pays The Kairos Company $10,000 a month to handle publicity, according to its 990 report.
Promoting questionable claims of election fraud
In a curious move for a get-out-to-vote organization, MFV, based in the Denver suburb of Parker, has embraced Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent—claims that experts say decrease voter turnout, as they may have done in the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia that gave Democrats control of the U.S. Senate.
In May, MFV launched an initiative called Election Integrity Now, calling for election reforms promoted by the conservative Heritage Foundation, including limits on voting by mail and requiring proof of citizenship. Critics say these changes would decrease voting by racial minorities, and that MVF is using Christianity as a justification to promote voter suppression.
Mike Huckabee called “the 2020 elections the most divisive and suspect election of our lifetimes.” He has promoted claims of election fraud, repeating many claims that have been factually disproven and/or rejected by courts.
There are a lot of unanswered questions. Even though I hear what has been said ‘Move on here, there’s nothing to see,’ there’s plenty to see: affidavits of people who have given sworn testimony under penalty of perjury and a prison sentence, that they saw things that were not appropriate according to protocol; the ballots that were uncovered after everyone had gone home after being told there was a main water leak when there really wasn’t; and then ballots came out but there were no observers there to observe those being counted. Those are serious questions along with the ID verification on mail-in ballots, how reliable were the Dominion voting machines.
But even as MFV sows doubt about the 2020 election, Yates bemoans Americans’ decreasing faith in the electoral process. “Even more dangerous than election fraud is that many Christians have lost confidence in the election system,” he said. “This belief drives apathy among believers and leads Christians once again to sit on the sidelines of the civic process.”
Challenging IRS regulations and ECFA standards
As a 501(c)(3) non-profit, MFV is prohibited by the IRS from making “public statements of position on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office,” but MFV regularly violates these rules, which are rarely enforced.
MFV’s partisan activities required it to file for an extension in providing its 2020 990 report to the IRS because representatives at the accounting firm Capin Crouse flagged its excessive spending on advocacy issues, requiring MFV accountants to recharacterize its spending in an effort to meet federal law for nonprofits.
In 2020, MFV’s income was $11,885,229. It spent $8 million on campaigns and messaging, and spent $2,463,779 (or 21% of income) on overhead, administration, and fundraising. It received U.S. government grants of $50,000, and made $180,000 in grants to foreign governments or individuals.
The organization does not reveal its donors, but records major gifts of $1.5 million, $1 million, $400,000, $310,000, and $250,000.
Jason Yates earned $130,000, CFO Michael S. Yates earned $72,000 (working 30 hours a week), and two other family members received payment for business they transacted with MFV: Meagan Yates ($55,325) and Eric Yates ($15,714). Sealy Yates, the founder of the powerful Yates & Yates literary agency, is the organization’s president and chairman.
MFV is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, and ECFA standards say its members “shall provide” a “complete set of financial statements…including the auditor’s report, all financial statements, and notes to the financial statements.” But MFV has failed to provide audited financial statements after numerous requests from MinistryWatch dating back to July. ECFA says providing such statements is “a condition of continued ECFA accreditation in good standing.”
A one-sided education
IRS regulations say 501(c)(3) non-profits must avoid “voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates.” But MFV consistently offers a one-sided education.
It has never criticized Trump and the GOP, and it has never praised a Democrat.
In an event organized by MFV and True the Vote just before the 2016 election, Christian nationalist author and GOP operative David Barton warned believers they would have to answer to God if they didn’t vote for Trump, regardless of the candidate’s lack of Christian character.
I can’t use the false standard of I have to have somebody perfect because there is nobody perfect except for Jesus and, by the way, when He was on earth, they didn’t think He was perfect; we only think He’s perfect now. Back then, they called him a winebibber and a glutton; he had all sorts of campaign ads run against him. So nobody is going to fit the criteria, so let’s get God’s mind on this thing instead of finding excuses … [because] you will answer to God for what you do with that ballot and what you do with this country.
In a recent press release entitled, “My Faith Votes offers Virginia’s pastors questions for Vice President Kamala Harris’ church tour,” it coached Christian leaders on Critical Race Theory and the Equality Act. MVF never offered any questions challenging Vice President Mike Pence during his four years in office.
Debbie Chaves, who joined MFV in October after working with Colorado Family Action and the CFA Foundation—two organizations that are part of the Family Policy Alliance of state-based groups founded by James Dobson—complained that a video Harris used was inappropriately mixing politics and religion.
“What is concerning about her video created to play in churches across Virginia is the message she conveys,” Chaves said. “It appears she may have crossed the line to political advertising by promoting a candidate for public office during a Sunday morning worship service and then directing congregants to go to a website paid for by the Democratic National Committee.”
Chaves also complained about Attorney General Garland’s letter about violence and intimidation at school board meetings, saying, “Socialist indoctrination and secular humanism have become the new religion of the government-run education system, driving parents to show up and speak up with disapproval to their local school boards.”
MFV opposes the Biden administration’s infrastructure and Build Back Better bills (“It’s time Americans draw a line in the sand and demand our elected representatives push back on this Socialist spending spree.”), and mobilized voters to oppose the anti-discrimination Equality Act (which is “being ramrodded through Congress to handcuff people of faith all across America”) and the Fort the People Act (which promotes broader access to the vote). It also called on Senators Manchin and Sinema to protect the filibuster.
MVF also joined the National Federation of Republican Women, the American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Limited Government, FreedomWorks, Judicial Action Group, Eagle Forum, and Tea Party Patriots to support an amendment to the Constitution that would restrict the size of the U.S. Supreme Court to nine justices. MFV never voiced objection when President Obama was denied a hearing for his Supreme Court nominee.
MFV spokesperson Allen West, who serves as chair of the Texas GOP, offered this summary challenge: “What if the silent majority of Bible-believing Christians across this nation realized that we are bigger than the anarchist and Marxist mobs, and that we, not they, will decide the future?”