Liberty U president says on tape that ‘getting people elected’ is his goal

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Liberty University’s new president, Jerry Prevo, told a top university official this year that he wanted the large Christian school to become a more effective political player with the goal of helping to influence elections, according to a call recording shared with POLITICO.

Prevo, a 76-year-old retired pastor of a large Alaskan church, told Scott Lamb, then the university’s senior vice president for communications and public engagement, that he wanted the university’s internal “think tank” — previously the Falkirk Center, now the Standing for Freedom Center — to become more effective at political activity.

“Are they getting people elected? Which is one of our main goals,” Prevo told Lamb during a call that Lamb surreptitiously recorded and provided to POLITICO. “Are they really motivating our conservative people to really get out to vote? If they are, we ought to be seeing some changes in elected officials — and we are to some extent. All I want to do is to make us more effective.”

The comments by Prevo, a Liberty trustee who took over as president following the resignation last year of Jerry Falwell Jr., raise new questions about the blurred line between education and politics at the university, which as a 501(c)(3) charity is not supposed to participate directly in political campaigns.


In the call, Prevo said that he wanted the center, which Lamb was responsible for overseeing, “to be more effective than Ralph Reed,” referring to the prominent leader of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative advocacy group.

On the call, Lamb pushed back against the idea that the university should be advocating for specific candidates and said that there had previously been concerns about running afoul of its non-profit tax status.

“I have a 50c3 church,” Prevo said in response, according to the recording. “For 30 years, I’ve known how to handle that and not get into trouble. The homosexual community has tried to take me down for at least 30 years, and they have not been successful because I know how to work the 50c3.”

Lamb was fired by Liberty in early October, which he says was in part related to his raising concerns about possible violations of the university’s 501(c)(3) status. He also alleged, in a federal lawsuit filed on Monday, that Liberty fired him in retaliation for concerns he raised about the university’s handling of reports of sexual assault and harassment.


Lamb said in an interview that he believed that Prevo, during the recorded call and on other occasions, was directing him to do things that could have jeopardized the university’s status as a 501(c)(3) charity. He said he interpreted Prevo’s comments to mean that “the president of the university was directing his senior vice president to get ‘our people’ elected this fall.”

Lamb said he believed that Prevo’s directives to him crossed a line.

“He's telling me to do things that we can't do,” Lamb said.

Liberty University pushed back on Lamb’s characterization of his conversations with Prevo.

“President Prevo knows the lines established by the IRS for political engagement by 501(c)(3) organizations, even if Scott Lamb does not,” a university spokesperson said in a statement. “The IRS recognizes that conservative 501(c)(3) organizations can legally register and get out conservative voters in hopes of having a more conservative government. The same goes for liberal 501(c)(3)s. They can also work against bad legislation even with the help of a former president.”

The university also said that its internal policy on political engagement “actually has limits that are more strict than federal law.” The spokesperson provided a copy of that internal policy, which it said Prevo emailed to university leaders earlier this year.

“Whatever the recordings say, they do not supersede university policy,” the spokesperson said.

Universities and other 501(c)(3) non-profit charities are not allowed to engage in political campaign activity under federal tax law. Those organizations are “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,” according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Falwell, who resigned last year amid questions about his role in his wife’s affair with a former pool assistant and other claims of impropriety, faced complaints of having used university funds to assist former President Donald Trump and other Republicans, including by paying for campaign-season ads that Facebook deemed political in nature. One spot featured Trump’s image and called on people to “Pray For Our President.” Another featured a beaming picture of North Carolina congressional candidate Madison Cawthorn, according to a POLITICO investigation.

Some faculty and students expressed strong objections to the university’s partisan political activities, arguing that the university should restore its focus on religion above politics.

But Prevo’s comments suggest that Liberty may continue and possibly escalate its involvement in politics, which was a key part of Falwell’s tenure. Falwell was the first evangelical leader to endorse Trump, a non-evangelical Christian, at a time when he was running against numerous Republicans with strong ties to the evangelical movement.

Lamb also provided POLITICO with information about an April 2021 meeting held at the university about mobilizing Christian opposition to Democratic legislation on voting rights and expanding federal anti-discrimination laws to protect people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The meeting, which focused on organizing against that legislation, known respectively as H.R. 1 and H.R. 5, was attended by conservative heavy hitters such as Mike Pompeo, who served under Trump as secretary of state and could run for president in 2024. Also in attendance were Prevo and Jonathan Falwell, brother of the former Liberty president.

Televangelist Paula White, who was chair of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, patched Trump into the meeting on her cell phone.

“The election was a disgrace,” Trump said. “It was, like, from a third world country. … That was a rigged and stolen election and people know it. Tremendous numbers of people know it. I can tell you the Republican party knows it. Mitch McConnell did a lousy job. He gave us absolutely no support. That’s one of the things I guess that people are talking about.”

Trump also told his audience his administration did more for Christians than any other administration. However, he told them, more work needs to be done. Christians could be “stronger.”

“If the people of faith got together … [they’re] the biggest voting bloc there is. It’s bigger than men and women. It’s something I hope you’re discussing. But we really are in a position where, because of the results of this rigged election, we are really in a position where we have to go out and we have to be very strong and very smart, cause all of the things that we got — and we got more than, I would say, Paula, more than anyone has ever done in terms of faith or in terms of religion and the religious community. And that means all religions. We’ve done so well and a lot of it’s gonna be taken back by this administration.”

The former president then thanked White for an “incredible job” on the election. “We had more evangelical votes than anyone thought possible,” he said, and said that this time around evangelicals had more “spirit,” suggesting that he would secure more of their votes in 2024.

Just before she hung up the call, White told the former president, “We stand with you.”

In March, Liberty University hired Glenn Clary, chair of the Alaska GOP, as the vice president of strategic partnerships and alliances. According to his school profile, Clary works directly with Prevo “to identify, facilitate, and execute partnerships with individuals and organizations to advance the mission, strategic plan, and spiritual focus of Liberty University.”

Both Clary and Prevo are ministers. They have known each other for more than 40 years. During Clary’s tenure as chair, the Alaska Republican Party censured Sen. Lisa Murkowski for voting to convict Trump at his impeachment trial.

To some former Liberty officials, bringing on Clary in a newly created role signals that the university’s president is interested in keeping the university active in political circles.

“Prevo is no different than [Jerry] Jr. when it comes to supporting Republican politics and using [Liberty] as a platform,” one former high-ranking Liberty executive told POLITICO on condition of anonymity.

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