Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Congressional Investigation of Televangelists

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), senior Republican on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, is investigating the financial procedures of six leading televangelists: Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Paula White, Eddie Long, and Creflo Dollar. He sent a letter each of the ministers asking detailed questions about how donations are used to support their extravagant lifestyles.

Grassley's investigation is welcomed by some pundits as an opportunity to crack down on financial abuse by these ministers, but questioned by others as a violation of First Amendment protections of religious organizations.


What do you think? Should Grassley's investigation proceed?

[cross-posted]

14 comments:

Todd said...

My question is, isn't this an issue for the I.R.S.? Does Congress have any authority to investigate private individuals operating businesses (ministries in this case) who have limited to no access to government funds? O.R.U. and Richard Roberts, yeah, I can see some governmental investigations there since they do receive federal student funds.

And do Congresspersons really want to start calling for review of financial records in an election season?

I think he is out of bounds and off his rocker to call for this.

Ned said...

An investigation may be necessary to put not-for-profit organization on alert and to assure that all 501 (c)(3) and other not-for-profit organizations are operating within the law. Congress perhaps should earmark additional funds to the IRS for manpower for the purpose. For the most part, our Congresssman and Senators spend so much time posturing themselves for reelection that they don't govern the land.

Matthew said...

I say add Focus on the Family to the list.

Tom Harrison said...

An investigation is a good idea, but this inappropriately personalizes the law. The FBI, IRS, or local authorities should do it. Also, it invites ridicule to have Congressmen accusing TV Preachers of taking advantage of their position.

Dan Trabue said...

I reckon I wonder, if any other non-profit had leaders who were living extravagantly off its earnings, would we want THOSE non-profits investigated? If Red Cross, Salvation Army, Toys for Tots, etc, had a president who spoke loud and proud about his gold toilet seats and crystal palace, would we want someone to look into their fund-raising schemes and expenditures?

Funny point, though, Tom. When they're done with the televangelists, will used car dealers be next?

Really, some of these guys (and gals) bring it on themselves.

Rev. J said...

I do not see anything wrong with congress looking into this matter. The Trinity Foundation (people of the satire and hilarious The Wittenburg Door) have worked hard to point holes in these pastor's lifestyle.

I think they are doing the world a service to seriously look into the financial situation of these mega-church-companies. Non-profits should not be pumping up their own pockets. There is something hypocritical about that (or is it, see more with my tongue and check post, I do not see anything wrong with congress looking into this matter. The Trinity Foundation (people of the satire and hilarious The Wittenburg Door) have worked hard to point holes in these pastor's lifestyle.

I think they are doing the world a service to seriously look into the financial situation of these mega-church-companies. Non-profits should not be pumping up their own pockets. There is something hypocritical about that (or is it, see more with my tongue and check post http://adventures-in-revland.blogspot.com/2007/11/prosperity-preachers-got-it-right.html).

I say bring it on. As non-profits we should all be willing to go under the microscope. If we aren’t doing anything wrong, than why not.


I say bring it on. As non-profits we should all be willing to go under the microscope. If we aren’t doing anything wrong, than why not.

JD said...

I, personally, am sick and tired of the Legislative Branch of the government sticking their nose where it does not belong (the rogue judges of the Judicial branch chap my hide too...making laws from the bench in defiance of the people's will). IF a benefactor or donor has come forth and claimed false pretenses for these organizations, then let the appropriate entities investigate and prosecute: police, IRS enforcement, FBI. IT is inappropriate that the Congressman and Senators continue to overstep their bounds and conduct "judicial" investigations that are not within their powers.

While something may or may not be amiss with these charities, it is not upon the Congressmen and Senators of our great country to begin investigating every Tom, Dick, and Harry because something "smells" funny.

Grassley is quoted as saying:

"It is important that the Congress and the public have confidence that public charities, which benefit from very significant tax breaks, are operated in a manner that promotes continued trust." While a true statement, it is not his place to start an investigation.

He goes on to say:

"I don't want to conclude that there's a problem, but I have an obligation to donors and the taxpayers to find out more. I'm following up on complaints from the public and news coverage regarding certain practices at six ministries." Again, not his problem...he needs to pass the baton. If he wants to change the IRS laws to have non-profit, church organizations report to the IRS, fine. Try to pass a bill that completely infringes on the "First Amendment protections of religious organizations." See how far that goes. IF congress can pass laws for so many other ridiculous things, why not put legislation forward for this and let the judicial branch do their job?

I also agree with rev j:

"I say bring it on. As non-profits we should all be willing to go under the microscope. If we aren’t doing anything wrong, than why not." ...but, getting bullied by a senator to disclose information that is not legally binding to disclose is wrong.

Oh, and one last thing...the investigation is to discuss their "financial conduct, pursuing reports of elaborate private jets, Rolls Royces and indulgent salaries." I think, if they are doing God's work, but ultimately, they are using funds in a way that is contrary to His message, they are in more trouble with Him than they ever will be here on this earth.

PAX
JD

Ken said...

According the I.R.S. website:

* In the United States, the Congress passes tax laws and requires taxpayers to comply.
* The taxpayer’s role is to understand and meet his or her tax obligations.
* The IRS role is to help the large majority of compliant taxpayers with the tax law, while ensuring that the minority who are unwilling to comply pay their fair share.


While also connected to the Treasury Department, the I.R.S. is in part, a means to enforce the law. The buck has never stopped with them. So as I have understood it (going back to college), Congress is in this instance, doing part of their job rather than abdicating.

For those of you unaware, clergy of all denominations are regularly being audited and investigated. Those that have previously abused their status as "not-for-profit" have brought this on all of us who do serve as clergy.

As I have already posted elsewhere thoughts on this, I don't want to go too far. But we might consider just how a theology (and a culture) that promotes excess, would be able to establish for itself when enough is enough? And for that matter, what behavior goes too far in attaining and maintaining it?

JD said...

Ken said:

"So as I have understood it (going back to college), Congress is in this instance, doing part of their job rather than abdicating."

I am still pretty sure that is not the case, especially for the Senate Finance Committee. I could be wrong, but the Legislative Branch makes the laws, Judicial Branch enforces. Just as congress is wrong in their thought process about stopping the war through legislation, so are they wrong here. Let the proper authorities investigate, if that is what they want done.

PAX
JD

Ken L. Hagler said...

jd said,

...the Legislative Branch makes the laws, Judicial Branch enforces.

The judiciary is the branch of government primarily responsible for interpreting the law. The executive branch holds the responsibility primarily of enforcing legislation which is why the I.R.S. is tied to the Treasury Department.

If it is an issue related to tax law, then the congress appears (at least to me) to have the authority to investigate abuse of the laws and consider changes to those laws.

JD said...

Thanks for the information, Ken. I knew I was off somewhere with the whole branches thing, but, from a taxpayer prospective, Congress needs to do less investigating and more of what the people of this country actually elected them to do.

PAX
JD

Ken said...

Too true. However, as we all know, to have any committee do anything should be a reason to celebrate! (He said with tongue planted firmly in check.)

todd w. said...

The comments that congress should not investigate and it should be handled by other government agencies are understandable, but I think comparing
a media oriented ministry to an individual is inaccurate. These tax exempt organizations fall
between the cracks in some respects and it is
reasonable to have a public accounting of how funds
are used. It is reasonable for congress to investigate
to see if the laws regarding tax exempt status for
such organization need to be altered to prevent abuse, that is a function of congress.
That being said I don't know that they can prevent ministers from providing themselves with a
luxurious lifestyle from donation, but it is reasonable to expect them to pay for that privilege.
If people want to give them the money to support
that lifestyle that is their choice.

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