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. Skeptical Analysis

    Being a greedy TV-evangelist makes for a great Christian. The more you sin, the more Jebus's sacrifice on the cross is worth. A Christian who lives a righteous life is throwing god's gift back in his face. The true believer should commit as many sins as is earthly possible in order to make sure Jebus gets his monies worth... If you don't, he died for nothing?

    January 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Logic

      That's funny! I love that.

      It's so true and it's probably what these morons were thinking. Thanks for the humor.

      January 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • jeff

      need to read the Bible a bit more, it appears – Romans in particular. The heresy of which you speak is called antinomianism. If you're going to thump us bible thumpers, do try to use good doctrine...

      January 8, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  2. Anglican

    Todd. So uneducated. The Anglican Church is the only Church openly dealing with the issue of gay and lesbian relationships. My Church, the Epscopal Church ordains openly gay clergy. The Archbishop is one of the most progressive in interfaith relations. Your rant is pathetic

    January 7, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Isn't the head of the Anglican Church Queen Elizabeth II?
      No lavish lifestyle there...

      January 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Anglican: You only addressed one of Todd's "concerns". His point is not irrelevant. You cannot just exempt someone from being evil because they carry the t!tle of "pastor", "priest", or "Christian".

      January 7, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  3. martin

    Great. In the midst of all the whining about Government spending, Grassley spends my money on an investigation that doesn't impose sanctions, but instead "may raise eyebrows in the non-profit community". Oh, I can just hear those eyebrows being raised all throughout the religious nut-cake community! Hey, here's an idea, Chuck. I'm starting the Church of Go Screw Yourself. I'm not going to pay any taxes, and you can investigate me.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Frankie

      Give your church a shot, Martin. Get a mail order minister degree, have your wife and kids congregate in the living room every Sunday morning, and your in.

      January 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  4. Ted

    Tax Exempt status should be removed from the Tax Code. EVERYONE should pay their share of taxes. Churches get a lot of tax breaks but bring nothing into the community. It should be illegal for religious organizations to hide their financial records. If they have done nothing wrong they have nothing to fear.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  5. Ed

    As a pastor of a mid-sized church, I know first-hand the importance of transparency. Every member of my church (and even non-members) receives a detailed financial report, including every detail relating to compensation of pastors. Even though most people keep their compensation details private, mine are completely public. And, that's ok with me. In fact, in the last two years, I have received no pay increase due to the economy and health insurance increases. But, I know, being a part of a Christian Church lumps me in with those few "bad apples."

    January 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Ed: That's refreshing to hear. One: cuz you bother to be open about your finances. And two: cuz you acknowledge that the richer-than-thou pastors and you both have Christian churches. A lot of Christians on this blog would not recognize that there is indeed a link no matter how distasteful.

      January 7, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  6. Kathy

    We have the largest church in our county telling their members that if they vote Democrat, they will go to hell. That's why we haven't elcted a Dem in this county for over 20 years- not one!

    January 7, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      I've got a surprise for your megachurch...Jesus was a progressive, a humanistic, inclusive man who cared for those who had little and didn't criticize them. I hate to break it to you megachurchians, but Jesus would have been a Democrat.

      January 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  7. Jara

    The God I believe in isn't short of cash mister....

    January 7, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Nonimus

      God has cash? why?

      January 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Jara: Effin' awesome tune. I love me some U2.

      January 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  8. Not All Docs Play Golf

    I love the opening line of a book by Howell Raines, Fly Fishing Thru The Midlife crisis...
    "Like many Southerners, I was ruined for church by early exposure to preachers".
    Amen, brother.

    January 7, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  9. James

    It's long since time religion of all types be treated as the for-profit businesses they are. Quite frankly, the world would be better off without it at all, but in the interim, let's let it do some actual good by taxing their various places of "worship."

    January 7, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  10. JB

    So, in brief, this was a 3 year waste of time and money.

    It's laughable, political hucksters investigating religious hucksters – they're birds of a feather.

    January 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  11. Reality

    Some examples of large "non-profit" tax shelters and salaries: guidestar.org

    From the Chicago Council on Global Affairs IRS Form 990:

    Investment holdings in publicly-traded securities, 2007-2008 tax period, $6,145,612. Dividends and interest from these investment for the same period, $705,970. Again, non-profit organizations pay no federal taxes on dividends, interest or capital gains. With such large investment holdings, are many non-profits simply a way to beat the system by the directors of these groups?

    Director Josephine Heindel’s salary, $184,000 including savings plans. VP of Finance, Robert Cordes’ salary $159, 000 to include savings plans. Three other directors make in the range of $140,000/year.

    From above: Did Eboo Patel's Interfaith Youth Core work for Obama's election campaign as we see Eboo is not only on the recent Chicago Council of Global Affairs' task force but also on Obama's Faith advisory council? Note: Mrs. Obama worked for the CCOGA and made about $100,000/yr. No doubt Mrs. O influenced Eboo's opportunities?

    Did a Faith Initiative grant from the State Department help defray the cost of CCOGA's report and Mr. Patel's task force pay?

    Mr. Barton of Wallbuilders pays himself $108,071 and his wife $14,770 per year from the approximately $1,000,000 of donations to Wallbuilders. In 2006, his investments (from donations?) netted him $102,000.

    Chris Seiple is the president of The Insti-tute of Global Engagement. His salary in 2008 was $162,261. Approximately 30% of this group funding is from government grants.

    One of the largest expenditures for this group is the money paid to an independent contractor in China, Beijing Pu Shi Zhi Quan Cultural Co Mei Lin Hua Yaun, Beijing, China for cultural consultancy. Strange that government grant money is being used in China for cultural consultancy???

    The Acu-men Fund:

    CEO, Ms. Novogratz’s salary for 2008 was $260,000 which included a $20,000 bonus. The CFO and four other highest paid managers made on average over $150,000/year which included bonuses and benefits. They apparently lost $1,596,997 on the stock market and other investments. Hmmm??

    Center for American Progress

    John Podesta is the president of the CFAP making over $250,000/yr with eight managers averaging $200,000/yr.

    The ACLU has a stock and bond portfolio whose value is in excess of $250 million.

    The Interfaith Alliance Foundation:

    The mission of this tax-exempt non-profit is “to promote the positive and healing role of religion in public life through education, research and civil discourse.”

    Considering that the president of the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, Dr. Welton Gaddy, pays himself a salary of $208,598/yr, one wonders what is being promoted? More profit from mythical prophecies/”profitcies”

    Special Olympics

    Dr. Shriver's salary at the Special Olympics, is $235,514 which includes benefits. Twelve other directors/managers make on average $175,000.

    Special Olympics has/had $38,145,655 invested in the Christmas Records Trust. Said trust apparently lost $18,757,600 in value in the 2007-2008 time period.

    Mikey Weinstein is the president of the non-profit Military Religious Freedom Foundation. And Mikey W's salary for 2008 was ? And the donations were?????

    As per Form 990, Mikey W's salary for 2008 was $252,485. Total donations made to his foundation for 2008 were $545,434. Hmmmm????????

    January 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      This section is supposed to be for comments, not complete essays. Go start your own web site.

      Besides, none of these people you list here are making enough money to support mansions, private planes, etc. 140k is not wealth, it's middle class and not even upper middle class. If it were wealth, I'd be living in a mansion instead of a modest townhouse. Get some perspective, and stop taking up space here.

      January 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Denizen Kate: Whooo! From my vantage point 140K is hella wealthy. And yeah I just used the word "hella"... =(

      January 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @Frogist: Agreed! I make $110K annually, and I consider myself to be pretty damn fortunate.

      January 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  12. David M

    As a Christian I have no problem with churches filing with the IRS. If there is nothing to hide, then where's the problem? I have served as an Elder and a Deacon so I do understand how the church finances are supposed to work. Transparency is all it takes. Every penny should be accounted for, not just to the IRS, but to the church members as well. I suspect that most church members do not know where their money goes. If they ask questions and don't get answers, that should be a huge red flag.

    These so-called pastors who have mansions, airports, airplanes, and expensive cars may not have to give an account to Congress or the IRS in this life, but one day they will give an account to God. Or at least try to. Fact is, they will not have anything to say. You cannot justify what is unjustifiable.

    January 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  13. Not All Docs Play Golf

    Egad! Moneychangers in the temple! Some dude named Jesus once said: "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."... So I ask...if the TV Evangelist's money is hidden in an off-shore account, maybe his "God" won't know about it, or maybe he can just purchase a really small camel.

    January 7, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      Thank you! I needed a good guffaw amongst all these doom-and-gloom comments. Careful, though - you may find yourself engaged in a battle of wits with a lot of unarmed people. Try not to hurt anyone, okay?

      January 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  14. Todd

    Yo, Anglican, does your archbiship rail against gay people? Non christians? Does he know any catholic priests who have molested kids that he is hiding from authorities?

    Evil can take many forms bub. Wake up.

    January 7, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • mj2007

      I'm an anglican (although not the person you replied to). In our church, our doors are open wide to all people. Our priests can get married and have children. They can even be women. Our service is very similar to the Catholic church...everything else is quite different.

      January 7, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  15. Reality

    There are always economics built into one's beliefs. For example, is Susan Jacoby an atheist because there is money to be made from books, speeches and columns on the subject? Unless she and others in the business of making good income from books, etc. on religion, secularism, or atheism take a vow of poverty, we will never know.

    Some examples: from guidestar.org (apparently none of the following were on Grassley's hit list. Rev. Graham definitely should have been)

    Rev. Franklin Graham $800,000+/yr.

    Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield $331,708/yr

    Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, $200,000/yr

    Erica Brown $134,221/yr

    Eboo Patel $100,000/yr.

    Dr. Herb Silverman $100,000/yr. ?

    Susan Jacoby ????

    January 7, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      Hee Hee...I bet Joel Osteen's wife doesn't shop at Dollar General.

      January 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      Susan Jacoby (and others) is producing a product (books, articles, speaking engagements). She isn't on television shouting her beliefs and urging her audience to send her money. She pays income taxes just like the rest of us. This committee was looking into evangelical organizations with tax exempt status. Please take a class or something to improve your reading comprehension before posting.

      January 7, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  16. donna rochesteer

    Thank you Chuck Grassley, a "dialogue" is long over due. These religious non-profits are some of the most corrupt organizations in our country and it is about time they paid taxes. I, for one, do not want to support these crooks who prey on the poor, ignorant, old and infirm. I volunteer for a small non-profit, no religious affiliation, and the first time we opened our mouths in support of a political candidate we would lose our non-profit classification, yet these mega churches participate fully and openly in the political process and play a large role in electing radical, right wing candidates. They operate the biggest scam in the country and it is time they were held accountable!

    January 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  17. scrollman

    If you would like a different perspective on the PAY TO PLAY churchs, read my novel The Fallujah Scrolls. I wasn't kind to organized religion.

    January 7, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      Mr. Godfrey,

      Googled that, read the synopsis on Barnes and Noble's web site. Also googled Outskirts Press, Inc.

      "Vanity press" it may be, but I truly admire anyone who can write a book, and I like the bit about the pilot who decided to end all the religious turmoil by nuking Jerusalem. I've often considered that to be a possible solution to the seemingly endless troubles in the Middle East. Well done!

      January 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  18. gino

    Lenny Bruce put it this way, "Show me a preacher with more than one suit and I'll show you a hypocrite."

    January 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  19. Mike

    The money thrown around is sickening, and the lavish lifestyles are ridiculous. But please remember that this represents a VERY small portion of ministers. Most live in very humble conditions and are not driven by money. So, this is not necessarily the face of religion in America. I recommend that people go to a healthy church and not follow the altar of the TV.

    January 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • David Johnson


      That may be, only because not all ministers/preachers have the talent or the opportunity to make it big.

      I shouldn't be bragged on for not stealing, just because I haven't had the opportunity to do so.

      All the televangelists have charisma. They are every good at what they do...deceiving the faithful.

      The ministers you brag on, may only have the talent of a frog in a small pond. Yes?

      The poor ministers are no less blameless than the rich televangelists. They both are "selling" a non-existent product.

      Love and Prayers!

      January 8, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  20. Observer

    Since so many Republicans are screaming about the deficit, why aren't any of them asking churches to pay their fair share instead of forcing everyone to pay more taxes to subsidize them?

    January 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
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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.