Amid scrutiny from law enforcement and the media, the Fellowship Foundation — the influential Christian group that runs the National Prayer Breakfast — has implemented new policies for the breakfast and the group itself, according to documents provided by the Fellowship to TYT.
The new rules were disclosed by the Fellowship less than a week before this year's National Prayer Breakfast, set for Feb. 7 and co-chaired by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and James Lankford (R-OK). The policy announcement also comes two years after Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin attended the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast, seeking to make influential connections at the elite, high-powered Washington event. Butina has since pleaded guilty to acting as a Russian operative without registering as one with the U.S. government.
Last summer, Fellowship leader — and Russia liaison — Doug Burleigh told WORLD Magazine he gave Butina ten tickets to the Prayer Breakfast. TYT reported last month that Burleigh also works for a Christian charity in Seattle, Leadership Development Seminars (LDS), that reported making payments related to Russian attendance at the 2017 breakfast.
Fellowship spokesperson and board member Larry Ross, in response to questions about Burleigh and the payments, sent TYT what he called a “new policy document.” The document included the “National Prayer Breakfast Invitation Policy” and the “Policy on Legal Compliance and Public Engagement.” (The full document has been embedded at the bottom of this story.)
The policy on Prayer Breakfast invitations says it was approved Oct. 29 of last year, several months after Burleigh’s interview with WORLD Magazine and the release of the FBI’s affidavit alleging that an unnamed breakfast organizer gave tickets to Butina and Torshin.
The Prayer Breakfast policy calls for avoiding “any conflict of interest...real or perceived.” It says those involved with the breakfast may not “Offer or sell political influence which includes tickets to the National Prayer Breakfast including access to political, business, community or religious leaders.”
The policy also prohibits offering “to broker access to the NPB and the opportunities to meet business leaders, politicians, faith leaders...and others specifically for the purposes of providing networking opportunities as part of a package of services for personal gain.”
The policy does not prescribe specific consequences for violations. It says “the NPB team and NPB Core,” along with the Fellowship president, will “decide the best way to deal with the situation." One possible outcome, it said, could be “separating that person from any future involvement in recommending future guests.”
The second policy appears to be more recent, saying that it was approved on Jan. 12. TYT initially asked the Fellowship about the LDS expenditures on Jan. 7 and published its report about those expenditures on Jan. 11. LDS does not disclose its donors and did not respond to TYT’s emailed questions.
Two members of Congress, Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA) told TYT afterward they did not plan to attend this year’s breakfast. Khanna called for “transparency” around the breakfast. A spokesperson for Lieu said, “If there’s Russian influence on the Prayer Breakfast, we want to know about it.”
The new, second policy concerns broader Fellowship compliance with the law and says it “goes beyond legal compliance and seeks to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing or the risk of bringing reproach on the Foundation for disreputable or self-serving conduct.”
The policy bans “any interactions for purpose of personal political or financial gain, with entities or persons that are prohibited, sanctionable, or registrable” by the law. The policy specifically cites lobbying law and the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Butina pleaded guilty to failing to register as a foreign agent. Torshin was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Dept. on April 6 last year. It’s not clear when Burleigh last met with Torshin. In addition to attending the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast, the two men both spoke at a May 2017 prayer breakfast in Russia, Burleigh told Religion News.
While Burleigh is not a member of the Fellowship’s board, nor an employee, he has been an unofficial leader of the group for years, speaking at Prayer Breakfast events and publicly discussing his Fellowship work, including outreach in Russia. The new policy says it applies to “anyone...who may be viewed as a representative of the Foundation.”
It covers “the National Prayer Breakfast and state and local gatherings, and all communications and interactions with political and other leaders, at all levels, by anyone representing the interests of the Foundation.”
The document says the new policy statement “memorializes and reinforces the longstanding commitment and practice of the Foundation to carry out all activities in a manner that demonstrates transparency, integrity, and compliance with all applicable laws and Foundation policies.”
The CIA’s former global head of Russia operations, Steve Hall, told TYT last month that Russian intelligence operatives see American religious organizations as easy to exploit due to lax oversight by U.S. law enforcement.
The Fellowship Foundation, also known as The Family and the International Foundation, has spent decades fostering relationships at the highest levels of power. Every U.S. president since Eisenhower has spoken at the Prayer Breakfast. Pres. Obama was criticized for speaking at the breakfast at a time when the Fellowship was under scrutiny for its role in anti-LGBTQ legislation in Uganda.
Ross did not respond to questions about the new policies, including who approved them or what prompted them. “The new Policy speaks for itself,” he said in an email, ”and codifies longstanding International Foundation commitments and practices.”
The document provided by Ross on behalf of the Fellowship appears below.
Jonathan Larsen is TYT's managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.
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