Liberty’s Curious “Think Tank”

By Peter Galuszka

Imagine there is a “think tank” at a private, non-profit university. It produces no academic papers and does no peer-reviewed research. Instead, it holds podcasts, seminars and buys ads on Facebook that obviously promote a political party and president.

Would that be a “think tank” or a political action committee?

That about sums up the situation involving Falkirk Center at Liberty University in Lynchburg, according to Politico, a Washington-based news outlet.

True, Liberty is a private, conservative religious institution. But that does not mean it can do what it wants.

“Universities are not allowed to back candidates or be involved in elections because of their status as 501c(3) nonprofits, which exempts institutions like Liberty from paying income tax and allows donors to deduct their donations from their taxes,” according to Politico.

The news outlet reports that Liberty is in a quandary about what to do with the Falkirk Center. It was established in 2019 by Jerry Falwell and an associate. Falwell has been an ardent supporter of Donald Trump although Falwell resigned this summer after revelations of a sexual scandal.

Even so, the Falkirk Center has recently been promoting such pro-Trump ideas such as his baseless claim there was widespread voter fraud and that the election last month was stolen from him. (State electors are expected to declare Democrat Joseph Biden as the president-elect today).

The controversy shows just how far Liberty seems to have gone off track under Jerry Falwell’s administration. His father, Jerry Falwell Sr., had been active in conservative p0litics such as backing the Moral Majority movement, but he later toned it down and concentrated on the university’s education.

Reports Politico:

“Falwell assumed the Liberty presidency in 2007, after the death of his father, Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., who founded the university in 1971. The elder Falwell was also known as the co-founder of the Moral Majority, which amassed political influence in conservative circles in the 1980s before being disbanded after a spate of scandals involving evangelical leaders. The elder Falwell lowered his political profile in his later years, partly to concentrate on the educational mission of Liberty, which he envisioned as an evangelical counterpart to the Catholic University of Notre Dame and the Mormon Brigham Young University.”

While the younger Falwell expanded the university by raising a $1 billion endowment and increasing online courses, he has been openly partisan in his politics, especially during Trump’s 2016 campaign. That may seem odd since Trump does not really identify with any particular religious group, has been married three times, paid hush money to a porn star with whom he allegedly had an affair and has boasted of his sexual prowess.

Falwell kept up his Trumpian efforts after 2016. One of them was the “think tank.”

Politico reports:

The think tank — called the Falkirk Center, a portmanteau of Falwell’s name and that of GOP activist Charlie Kirk, who co-founded it — purchased campaign-season ads on Facebook, at least $50,000’s worth of which were designated by the network as political ads, that promoted Trump and other Republican candidates by name.

“Pray For Our President,” declared one, featuring a photo of Trump with his hands clasped in prayer.

“Be a radical for our republic,” said another Facebook ad that ran over the summer with a photo of a beaming Madison Cawthorn, the rising GOP star and congressional candidate from North Carolina who spoke at Trump’s convention.

Three Liberty board members contacted by Politico expressed concern about Falkirk. They question whether it diminishes academic standards since it doesn’t produce research papers or any kind of scholarship.

“The Falkirk Center, to me, represents everything that was wrong with Liberty when Jerry [Falwell] was there,” said Karen Swallow Prior, a professor at Liberty for 21 years who left at the end of last school year. “It’s brazenly partisan,” Politico reported her as saying.

A Liberty spokesman didn’t really give an answer about the questions surrounding Falkirk but said that many attached to the school support it.

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50 responses to “Liberty’s Curious “Think Tank”

  1. Well, in the whole of the 4,000 years of Earth’s history, they have never had a student display a “F*** Liberty” sign on their dorm room door.

    • … except for that giant FU, I mean LU, tattooed on the side of the mountain overlooking Lynchburg. Many of the natives seem to think its an FU to those who didn’t care for Falwell, Sr local presence

  2. High stakes elections have high stakes consequences. These high stakes incentivize all manner of corruption. Make the federal government small again and we’ll see less of this.

    • Define “small”.

      • The size at which no real people really care who the president is.

        • So, small enough that women have the freedom of choice where medical procedures are the sole purview of patient and doctor?
          Small enough that they don’t examine the sex, including gender, within the state of matrimony?
          Small enough that military members needn’t “drop trow” to examine for minor alterations?
          Small? Or, your small?

          • “your small” – yup – and only Conservatives can decide!

          • Yep, those are very good examples. I can go for all of those. I would also add getting out of the business of manipulating currency, stop interloping in other nations’ affairs, and stop treating citizens as if they were children incapable of making rational decisions in their own best interests.

            BTW, Conservatives left to their own devices would screw everything up just as bad as the Liberals. Both are needed to counter the other’s crazy ideas.

          • And let each state do their own dang vaccines, environental rules, highways, communication frequencies, social security, medicare, post office, etc.

          • 1) Doesn’t have much to do with the “size” of Government. Roe exists, but we know it doesn’t go far enough for you.

            2) Sure, it’s nothing more then a contract between two people, if you dissolve, you pay. (I’d presume you know this from your first wife and perhaps will know more on the 2nd)

            3) Transitions shouldn’t be paid for by the taxpayer, that goes hand in hand with abortion. If they want to serve good on them, meet the standards and drive on.

          • But that’s not the ban in place. They are a priori banned.

          • None of those issues have anything to do with the concept of small government. Keep federal spending under 17% of GDP and you’ll have a “small” government that can still make and enforce laws.

          • When government prohibits, government grows. Remember, “He who governs least, governs best.” Ain’t that the mantra?

          • Where did the 17% come from?

          • Dunno? But the ONLY time that ~17% was true was when the Satanic progeny Bill Clinton was in office.

          • Part of comparing the US with the EU is that the US started with top-down decisions from the Founding Fathers and then added to/modified/took away for the next 300 years

            Then the EU had the benefit of looking at other countries , including their own, and the US to decide how much to retain at the country level and how much to cede to a higher governance structure.

            And some like Great Britain have decide it’s not for them.

          • We call that NIH disease — Not Invented Here.

          • LarrytheG wrote “Part of comparing the US with the EU is that the US started with top-down decisions from the Founding Fathers and then added to/modified/took away for the next 300 years”

            That statement is so completely wrong it would take several pages to fully unpack. But here are some bullet points.

            – One should not confuse “Founding Fathers” with “Framers” of the Constitution. While there is overlap, they are not identical groups.

            – The country started out with a very very weak federal government under the Articles of Confederation. This was so weak that it was deemed to be unworkable. Hence the need for the Constitution.

            -The Constitution wasn’t imposed by the Founders or Framers. It had to be ratified by the states.

            – Governance under the US Constitution still left most power with the states. This power has eroded over time. An important milestone was Marbury v. Madison (1803).

            LarrytheG’s comment is completely wrong. He has it backwards from what actually happened.

          • re: “wrong”

            HOWEVER, it came to be – it happened 300 years ago and started with some basic principles that were, over time, agreed to be expanded and over time, modified,

            whereas the EU started more than 300 years later and had the ad advantage of looking at how the US started and how it evolved to where it is now as those countries, in some respects,
            also “ratified” their Constitution.

            The main point was that we DID start out with some top-down “ideas” that had to be agreed to but they did start with something that then had to be agreed to.

            AND that Europe started their process centuries later – they started with something – again – someone had to put to words a starting point – like the US did… AND the EU is “modifying” and evolving.

            Not sure, I’ve ever seen a comparison between the EU and US “constitution”/governance-wise.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Some folks are wired to deliver wrong responses. It’s a hopeless condition, their irrevocable default setting for life, poor devils.

        • “The size at which no real people really care who the president is.”

          So smaller than it’s ever been in the history of our country. Makes sense… 🤦‍♂️

          • Interesting what Europe did. Started out as multiple soverign countries then agreed to a central government.

            Might be interesting to compare what Federal functions the US has with which Federal functions the members of the EU agreed to cede to a central authority.

          • Is that the definition of “anarchy “. I mean, the Civil War was in there someplace, and it kinda is the global min…. so far.

          • LarrytheG,

            I assume you know that the EU has been called “The United States of Europe” by some. In fact, the EU is quite different the US in significant ways, but there are also some similarities.

            Interesting that you should bring up the EU at a time when Democrats are complaining that representation in the US isn’t proportional to population because each state gets two Senators.

            Each European state also has representation which results in member states effectively getting votes on important issues.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Falkirk Center seems to be focused on conservativism in government with an emphasis on religious freedom. I see no difference in Falkirk than similar operations at UVA or Mary Washington.

  4. Call it Fawkirk Center or Galkirk Center. Problem dissolve? Or does Peter still lay awake at night, aggrieved and angry?

  5. You mix Religion and Politics and this what you get. It’s a proven problem the world over and our own Founding Fathers worried about it, in fact this country was founded by people fleeing a “national” “religion”.

    re: “small” Federal Government – where to start….. hmm.. SCOTUS?

  6. Believe me, I do not stay up at night angry at Liberty U. Also which uva and MaryWash think tanks are in any way similar to Falkirk? My two children went to both schools and I haven’t heard about them.

  7. A 501(c)(3) should not be endorsing named politicians. That seems pretty straightforward to me.

  8. If Falkirk spent money promoting presidential candidates it should have its 501(c)3 status revoked. The law needs to be enforced — as I’m sure it will be as soon as Joe Biden commands the apparatus of the IRS.

    • Question:

      Are college newspapers sufficiently separate from the institutions that public endorsements are okay? How is a college newspaper different from a “think tank?” Don’t both receive assistance from their respective institutions?

      “The college newspaper at President Donald Trump’s alma mater will formally endorse former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 election in an editorial to be published later today.”

      “The University of Pennsylvania’s Daily Pennsylvanian will back a Democrat against Trump for the second time. In 2016, their opinion board endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton alongside her college newspaper, the Wellesley News.”

  9. Anyone remember the IRS “scandal” when they went after Conservative non-profits for engaging in political activities?

    Remember, non-profits also usually don’t have to pay property tax nor sales taxes. (they do have to pay FICA).

    • Ummmm, wrong there Lar. There is a process for non-profits to see exemption from state and local taxes, but it is not automatic. But most don’t actually own real estate. The goody they seek is exemption from paying sales tax on their purchases. Falwell Junior strikes me as at least bright enough to have had a lawyer advise on these activities to stay on the right side.

      Not sure of the state of the law now, but even churches had a limit on how much real estate they could own exempt from taxes. Hence the origin of the Falwell empire’s “Old Time Gospel Hour, Inc.” as a holding company outsider of the Thomas Road church.

      • Was looking at this:

        ” Would a Nonprofit Pay Taxes for Real Estate?
        Organizations that qualify for federal tax-exempt status are, by law, exempt from paying property taxes in all 50 states. The value of the exemption depends on the size and nature of the real estate that the nonprofit owns. A community food bank operating out of a small suburban warehouse may save a few thousand dollars a year, while a large urban hospital may save much more.

        Property taxes vary by region, so a property tax exemption in states such as California or New York is more valuable than an exemption in Louisiana, which has one of the nation’s lowest property tax rates. .”

      • The game in Lynchburg is (or was) to buy downtrodden real estate, get LU to appraise it for significantly more that it was worth, then donate it to LU. LU got the real estate on the cheap for whatever purpose and the “investor” got a significant tax benefit. Hence, LU now owns several retail and hotel facilities, amongst many other seemingly questionable holdings, in the Lynchburg area.

        I’m sure there was quite a bit more behind than what was reported on this one:

        One of the more recent scandals is about LU is trying to bypass local zoning in order to substantially expand a small community airport. There’s also a number of other rumors of shenanigans involving turning a blind-eye to a developer supposedly backed by an LU investor(s).

  10. Falkirk? A gross misspelling of Valkyrie?

  11. False equivalence. I have yet to see any of those schools buying pro Trump ads on Facebook or putting up pro Trump podcasts. Not the same.

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