Senate Finance Committee Investigation

For six years, Trinity Foundation worked with the Senate Finance Committee in their investigation of religious non-profit organizations.  On Jan. 6, 2011, the committee issued its final report, with no penalties for the pastors who refused to cooperate and no definitive findings of wrongdoing .

Ole Anthony, president of Trinity Foundation, told Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches he is "disappointed" with Sen. Charles Grassley's recommendation that the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountabilty form a commission to study the issues raised by the probe. The ECFA, he said, has no "teeth" to compel the televangelists into greater accountability and transparency.

Grassley's staff reported they found instances of fear and intimidation by some of the ministries toward members of their own staffs who wanted to talk to the investigators.

--Insiders in Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Fort Worth, Texas, said they were intimidated from speaking with committee staff, with one former employee saying they were told "God will blight our finances" if they talked.

--Georgia pastor Creflo Dollar's ministry was called the "least cooperative," with staffers unable to determine the names of board members.

--The majority of questions asked by Grassley staffers of Bishop Eddie Long's megachurch in Lithonia, Ga., remained unanswered, including the amount of his salary.

--Several former staffers at Paula White's megachurch in Tampa, Fla., wanted to speak with staffers but "were afraid of being sued by the church," and at least one was reminded by a church lawyer of a previously signed confidentiality agreement.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State criticized the report's recommendation of repealing the prohibition of church electioneering.

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told Religion News Service: "If these multimillion-dollar ministries are already misusing their donations for personal gain, imagine how much more dangerous they would be operating in the world of partisan politics."

Here is a link to the latest Grassley report and a list of associated documents (Jan. 6, 2011):
Grassley Releases Review of Tax Issues Raised by Media-based Ministries

Here are articles covering the latest Grassley report (Jan. 6, 2011):
ECFA: Summary of Significant Ideas, Issues and Questions Raised by Senator Grassley’s Staff

AP: Televangelists escape penalty in Senate inquiry

CNN: Government review of televangelists' finances released

Sarah Posner Blog: Televangelist Watchdog says He’s “Disappointed” with Grassley Result

WFAA: Senate audit critical of TV preacher Kenneth Copeland

RNS: Grassley investigation found some ministries intimidating their own staffs

Background:

In November 2007 Sen. Charles Grassley sent letters to six televangelist ministries seeking to determine if they were abusing their non-profit tax status. 

Sen. Grassley's office asked us to furnish information on televangelists' activities relating to two specific areas of the tax code-- conversion (using donor funds to benefit for-profit activities) and inurement (excessive compensation and/or lifestyle).

We've documented an increasing trend of abuse in those areas through our investigations over the past 20 years. 

Others have confirmed our opinion. Deborah Bortner, former president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, told the committee, "I've been a securities regulator for 20 years, and I've seen more money stolen in the name of God than in any other way."
 
Mark W. Everson, the IRS Commissioner, in a letter to Grassley's committee, admitted even the IRS has not been able to properly confront the problem.  For comparatively small organizations like the televangelists, he said, "the problem is compounded because we have little ability to monitor their operations against diversion of assets."

By virtue of our long interest in this arena, Trinity Foundation has been able to provide a valuable service in exposing many of these practices.

We are preparing an archive of material we've gathered. Keep watching this site.

Read the original Senate Finance Committee requests for information sent to "the Grassley Six" below (pdf format):

Benny Hinn

Eddie Long

Creflo and Taffi Dollar

David and Joyce Meyer

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland

Randy and Paula White


Read previous media reports on the Grassley investigation:

Probe Biased, Televangelists Say (5/24/08)
Bishop Long to cooperate with Senate inquiry (03/31/08)
Does preacher compensation violate non-profit tax laws? (2/15/08)
Huckabee solicits funds from embattled televangelist (2/08/08
Pastor Creflo Dollar Responds To Questions About Possible Financial Misconduct (11/07/08)
Senate Panel Probes 6 Top Televangelists (Nov. 6, 2007)