Government review of televangelists' finances released
January 7th, 2011
01:02 PM ET

Government review of televangelists' finances released

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

The result of a Senate committee's long-awaited review of media-based ministries has finally been released.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, began the investigation into six televangelists in November 2007, when he was head of the Senate Committee on Finance. His office released the review Thursday.

At issue was compensation for the pastors and ministry leaders who openly led lavish lifestyles while their ministries received tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service.

The review by the committee did not impose new rules on the religious organizations or suggest they be stripped of their tax-exempt status. But it did bring to light compensation practices that may raise eyebrows in the non-profit community and lead to a discussion of new tax policies for religious organizations.

"The staff review sets the stage for a comprehensive discussion among churches and religious organizations," Grassley said in a prepared statement. "I look forward to helping facilitate this dialogue and fostering an environment for self-reform within the community."

Of the six organizations targeted by Grassley's review, only Joyce Meyer Ministries and Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church participated fully. The review states both groups were working to reform their ministries' financial practices.

Committee staff members Theresa Pattara and Sean Barnett wrote in the staff review, "The reforms undertaken by Pastor Hinn and Joyce Meyer are extensive and are to be commended." Joyce Meyer Ministries, based in St. Louis, went so far as to join the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

The other ministries in the review did not participate fully or at all, the senator's office said.

The review and correspondence released by Grassley's office shows Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church, Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries submitted incomplete responses to the senator's questions.

Atlanta-based Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International/Creflo Dollar Ministries did not participate at all, declining the senator's requests, according to released correspondence between Grassley and Dollar's attorneys.

Long responded in a statement Thursday night, "I am relieved that after more than three years of intense investigation and countless untrue allegations, that Senator Chuck Grassley's review has found no evidence of wrongdoing. Our ministry at New Birth has always and will continue to operate with accountability and integrity. I am thankful to God that the public now knows the truth."

Where churches would not participate, the review says, the investigators declined to issue subpoenas, instead relying on public records, court testimony, and even confidential informants.

According to the review, many of the ministries operate multiple non-profits, with the leaders drawing some form of compensation from each of them.

"The number and types of entities, including private airports and aircraft leasing companies, raises concerns about the use of the church's tax-exempt status to avoid taxation. However, given the four churches' refusal to provide tax information, we are unable to determine whether and the extent to which they are reporting and paying taxes on income earned in those entities," the review states.

The review praised the broader religious community in the United States and noted there are a few bad apples that may lead to a discussion of a new tax law for religious entities.

"While the majority of churches and religious organizations operate with policies and procedures that make them accountable to their members, it is the small minority that don't that are subject to scrutiny by the members and the public, including the press. These outliers present tax policy issues for consideration," the review said.

Churches have long had a strange dance with the IRS. The government has to balance the constitutional rights of the churches under the Establishment Clause and the groups' rights to free speech. The review notes tax laws relating to churches have not been updated in decades. Because the ministries are incorporated as houses of worship, they are exempt from filing the financial disclosures the federal government requires of other non-profits.

"The challenge is to encourage good governance and best practices and so preserve confidence in the tax-exempt sector without imposing regulations that inhibit religious freedom or are functionally ineffective," Grassley said.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Church and state • Politics • United States

soundoff (339 Responses)
  1. bobby

    no one is forced to watch televangilists. if you don't find them sincere, and if you think they are all fake and whatever else you think of them, why are still watching it?instead of bad mouthing them, ignore them and hope they go away. the ones that are true will remain til the end. for those with the lists of wrong/evil doers-just remember every one of us have done something wrong at one point or other, bad is bad..none of these preachers say or claim they are perfect. we are all imperfect people being changed into the likeness of a perfect GOD. as to whether you believe GOD exists or is real, no one can force you to believe what you downright refuse to. you can only believe in a GOD of mercy and love if you have experienced HIM. for that you will need a personal encounter. you can run and run, refuse, rebuke, argue and bad mouth, but if and when you have your own personal encounter and experience, only then can you or will you get it. stop being so angry and critical and seek the TRUTH and you will find IT.

    January 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      Bobby, you say "ignore them and hope they go away" - I've been ignoring them for decades and they aren't gone yet.

      As for the rest of your pro-religious rant, please do us all a favor and stop assuming that your particular illusions are the truth, and stop scolding people who don't believe exactly what you believe. That is arrogance. You accuse others of bad-mouthing, but isn't that what you are doing?

      January 7, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Skeptical Analysis

      Back up any of your claims that god is real with actual evidence. Your personal experience of voices inside your head is not evidence for anything but a delusion. As for your claim that god is love. Are you speaking of the god of the bible myth that killed millions for absolutely ludicrous reasons. What I really don't understand is that if your god inspired the bible, why does he make himself out to be a complete ass? Give me one example of "god is love" and I'll give you 100 examples of "god is a murderous maniac". Religion is a financial and moral scam. Christianity would be the biggest scam if it weren't for Scientology...

      January 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Frogist

      @bobby: "ignore them and hope they go away. the ones that are true will remain til the end". Can this hold true for non-religious things as well? Would it be ok for us to turn a blind eye to Bernie Madoff? No? Nobody forced them to give him their money. I mean none of us are perfect. So why focus on one man like Madoff who did one bad thing? Right?
      "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing."

      The thing is I wonder about Christians like you, bobby. Are you happy with these men and women who live in mansions and have private airports off the funds provided by their church members who may live in poverty? Or that the church people who donate, thinking that the money is going to help starving children or homeless families, is actually going into the pastor's pocket to buy another car? I would think that should bother you. I wonder why it doesn't. Does it?

      January 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Logic

      Oh bobby – you love to rant for with the "pro-religious" slant, but you probably don't know what a "limit" or "extent" is. Do you know what a limit is?

      Like "a limit to the extent of ignoring something in vain hope of it going away"? Apparently I can see that you are so easy to exploit and pick on. You'll never fight back would you?

      You'll see an injustice, in this case, a person who sees a an opportunity and enacts a scam to pilfer money for his own gain and you tell others that "he'll go away". You subjectively let this act continue on. You want this to continue?

      Well it's exactly what your words are doing, you are informing others to ignore this problem of another person scamming others. Advocating that others ignore it. You are the problem.

      January 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Independentthinker

      @bobby, I have 5 different churches near my house that have 5 different versions of the "truth" to choose from. How can you know what REAL truth is when you hear so many variations on it?
      I used to belong to one of those churches until I realized it was all a brainwash. If you didnt TOTALLY believe in their version of the truth you were an outsider. You were different and they did not like someone who voiced an opinion contrary to their version of the truth. I left and glad I did. I dont need someone with a college degree to tell me if there is or is not a God and how I feel one way or another about him/her/it. Its MY PERSONAL choice either way!

      January 8, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  2. mike

    what kind of shiit report doesn't divulge the actual 'compensation' these 'pastors' got? Nobody got the balls to ask the tough questions and divulge the answers? Too interested in being PC and not stepping on the religious right's toes?

    January 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • bobby

      why is it so important to know how much these people make?if you are working, it is considered to ask you how much you make. where does it say Christians need to live poor?God, loves us, HIS children and wants us to have the best of everything. gratned, there are people who struglle, who have struggled and are still struggling..and if not today, but someday we will understand why some people undergo hardships and some don't. whatever your situation, it doesn't change who GOD is. He is still a GOD of love. i have been someone who has seen and lived a life where GOD provided for me and my needs bcoz i loved and trusted HIM.

      January 7, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Raji the Green Witch

      Bobby, It has been a while and I'm paraphrasing here so, bear with me but it seems like I once read words to this effect,... "Sell all of your worldly goods and give the proceeds to the poor, then come and follow me." That pretty much sounds like in order to follow Jesus you DO have to be totally poor. Otherwise you're just paying lip service and proving yourself to be a hypocrite.

      January 7, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • David Johnson


      You said: "what kind of shiit report doesn't divulge the actual 'compensation' these 'pastors' got? Nobody got the balls to ask the tough questions and divulge the answers? Too interested in being PC and not stepping on the religious right's toes?"

      You are 100% correct.


      January 8, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  3. Jason B.

    Making them file tax & income paperwork wouldn't hurt their religious freedoms one bit. And if they're acting properly, they shouldn't have any issues doing it. And there is something fishy about "religious" leaders leading such lavish lifestyles. I don't seem to recall any stories about Jesus and his McMansion and his garage full of high end cars.

    January 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  4. Sybaris

    Religion.......the ultimate ponzi scheme!

    January 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Anglican

      Your statement is untrue. How is religion a ponzi scheme? No doubt the most TV preachers are ridiculous. The parish priests I know raise families and work very long hours, doing good works on modest means. Your generalization is childish.

      January 7, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  5. Eric of Reseda

    A partial list (from Wikipedia) of the Evangelical Christian crooks over the years. WAKE-UP CHRISTIANS! Your leaders are downright EVIL!

    1.1 Aimee Semple McPherson, 1920s–40s
    1.2 Lonnie Frisbee, 1970s–1980s
    1.3 Marjoe Gortner, early 1970s
    1.4 Billy James Hargis, early 1970s
    1.5 Jim & Tammy Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, 1986 and 1991
    1.6 Peter Popoff, 1987
    1.7 Morris Cerullo, 1990s
    1.8 Mike Warnke, 1991
    1.9 Robert Tilton, 1991
    1.10 W. V. Grant, 1996 and 2003
    1.11 Bob Moorehead, 1998
    1.12 Roy Clements, 1999
    1.13 John Paulk, 2000
    1.14 Paul Crouch, 2004
    1.15 Douglas Goodman, 2004
    1.16 Kent Hovind, 2006
    1.17 Ted Haggard, 2006
    1.18 Paul Barnes, 2006
    1.19 Lonnie Latham, 2006
    1.20 Gilbert Deya, 2006
    1.21 Richard Roberts, 2007
    1.22 Earl Paulk, 2007
    1.23 Coy Privette, 2007
    1.24 Thomas Wesley Weeks, III, 2007
    1.25 Michael Reid, 2008
    1.26 Joe Barron, 2008
    1.27 Todd Bentley, 2008
    1.28 George Alan Rekers, 2010
    1.29 Eddie L. Long, 2010
    1.30 Vaughn Reeves, 2010
    1.31 Marcus Lamb 2010

    These people have proven that suckers are born every minute, and these suckers belong to the Evangelical Christian movement.

    January 7, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Anglican

      My Church leader is the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is not evil, and I am no fool.

      January 7, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  6. Chris

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.."

    Sounds to me like churches ought to be treated just like the rest of us. TAX 'EM!

    January 7, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  7. bennie

    Jesus preached to give to Caesar what is Caesar's – in other words PAY TAXES!!! There are going to be alot of sad tv preachers on Judgement Day.

    January 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • JoeT

      It would be a hoot to hear about mega televangelist operations moving overseas to dodge taxes.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  8. conradshull

    Nowhere does the word "audit" appear in the bible!

    January 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • JoeT

      Technically, not so: the entire book of Numbers is named after a census, which is a form of audit, and contemporary events.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • conradshull

      (Credit where credit is due; this is a paraphrase of a Robin Williams riff.)

      January 7, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  9. Frogist

    "The review and correspondence released by Grassley's office shows Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church, Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries submitted incomplete responses to the senator's questions.
    Long responded in a statement Thursday night, "I am relieved that after more than three years of intense investigation and countless untrue allegations, that Senator Chuck Grassley's review has found no evidence of wrongdoing. Our ministry at New Birth has always and will continue to operate with accountability and integrity. I am thankful to God that the public now knows the truth."

    The audacity of some people! The public does not now know the truth, Mr Long, because you witheld information.

    January 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Lee8360


      January 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  10. David

    I attended a Catholic parish in which the Priest ran some businesses that were staffed with the unemployed and just released inmates. It made so much money that he told the congregation that we were self-supporting and no money was
    required from us. He drove new cars had a really nice home. Never asked for money. The result the parish grew and
    people actually donated more. Complete financial accounting every 6 months during Mass. God Bless Him!

    January 7, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  11. maddawg


    and the lemmings cult leaders scramble to attempt to dodge yet another responsibility.

    typical blind follower, cult loving, thoughtless lemmings.........your religion has you wrapped around it's false beliefs and you are certainly paying dearly for it in more than one way.

    so glad i can't say i'm in the same boat!

    January 7, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  12. John TN

    When are people going to realize that religion is used to manipulate and fleece the flock. I believe Americans have the right to worship or not but get a grip people.

    January 7, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  13. rightSaidFred

    And these are the folks who every Sunday (or whenever possible during the week) condemn gays to the fires of hell. Ha-ha, that's rich.

    January 7, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • sassy_latina

      For u to criticize about the people of God its wrong!!! An if u feel offended about what is said about the gay people u shouldnt because in the end God is the one who judges everyone......the thing u should worry about is your relationship with God and pray u are right with God!!!!! Thank you.....

      January 23, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  14. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    I do worry whenever I hear the cry to tax churches. I know the one I am a member of has enough problems paying our fuel oil and electric bills to worry about whether our Pastor is getting rich (I know his pay and he is not). I do believe that churches should pay income tax on all properties and businesses they own and/or operate that are operated "for profit". This would include parking lots, rental property, and things like the store-front "post office" and stationary store run by a number of evangelical churches. This would also include things like Roman Catholic Diocesan Bookstores, etc.

    Now how about looking at the salaries of corporate executives as compared to their rank and file employees. How can companies boast record profits, announce major dividend payments to shareholders, and provide excellent salary raises and bonuses to executives, while offering less than half the rate of inflation in a raise to employees?

    January 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • saganhill

      As an Athiest, I agree with your analogy regarding corporate execs raping saleries and taking jobs over seas. But, the whole idea of a building for people to go to to pray and worship an invisble old man who lives up in the sky is just as stupid. Grown adults parying to the boogyman just as grown adults pray to the dollar, its the same thing. Power begets power and corruption no matter what you equate it to. Humans for some odd reason need to make up stuff to make their lives feel full. If humans would spend a little more time figuring out how we can make a life on Earth, they worry and woe over what will happen to them after they die. A complete waste of time and effort.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Just curious, what's being an atheist got to do with agreeing "with [an] analogy regarding corporate execs raping saleries and taking jobs over seas?"

      January 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Bryson Daniels

      Hey guys, I just want to take a moment to acknowledge that "SaganHill" is an atheist. I know some of you may have missed the last 10 posts where he said it so I'm just giving you a heads up. Make sure you don't forget it either! He wants to be V-E-R-Y sure that we don't mistake him for anything but an atheist.

      January 8, 2011 at 6:27 am |
    • From Minnesota

      For what it's worth, pastors pay taxes on their income just like anyone else.

      January 8, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  15. sleipner

    Churches are businesses, pure and simple. Their business is to sell afterlife insurance to gullible people for whatever price they're stupid enough to pay. Personally I think no church should be tax exempt – if they are TRULY nonprofit, they won't be making enough money to pay taxes on anyway.

    January 7, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  16. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Airplanes, mansions, designer shoes and clothes, lavish vacations around the world, cruise ships, families on payroll; what else do people need to know, corruption in the church pays well.

    January 7, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  17. Jeff in CO

    TV evangelists are not promoting righteous living. They promote themselves with the ignorant who support them with their money. What have these "ministries" done lately for the good of those inside/outside their congregations?

    January 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  18. JoeT

    As I recall, there was a guy who just totally trashed all the preachers of his time for being more interested in making money than in saving souls. They eventually caught up with him and nailed him a to tree until he died.

    January 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • saganhill

      As I recall, that was only a story. After all its only mentioned in one book and we all know how factual that book is–wink, wink, nudge, nudge...

      January 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • JoeT

      @saganhill: while we may doubt the varacity of the account, the story still holds true. Whistleblowers of all stripes, mortal or devine, take note: don't upset the applecart.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  19. Fred

    Most churches barely bring in enough to survive. Every pastor I know barely makes enough to survive. Televangelists are completely different. They bring in a lot of money and operate side businesses that also generate revenue.
    Times are tough right now. Brick-and-mortar churches do a lot more to help their fellow man than some loudmouths from TV. I have no problem with taxing televangelists and their "enterprises." Taxing "the little church down the street" would be wrong.

    January 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Jake

      Tax 'em all! They all peddle lies on my dime.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  20. TheAlaskaCurmudgeon

    Show me a televangelist and I'll show you a crook.

    January 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.