Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Media-Based Ministries “witch hunt” is over! To many prayers are answered…

January 10, 2011

November 2007 was when it began – the “witch hunt” that is – started by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, when he sent a massive informational request to six major media-based ministries.

Substantial financial inquiries were sent to:  Joyce Meyer Ministries, Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church, Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church, Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, and Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International/Creflo Dollar Ministries.

When the Grassley issued his extensive financial requests cries erupted from many in the various segments of the faith based community.  Claims that Sen. Grassley was over reaching rang far and wide and many suggested that the separation of church and state was at play here.  I, as a business ethics speaker, on the other hand felt that full disclosure was appropriate.  If you had nothing to hide, then why resist?  Obviously, some listed above agreed.

The issue Grassley was investigating was weather the tax exempt status of the ministries should be revoked based on the lavish lifestyles ministry leaders lead.

According to a CNN article written by Eric Marrapodi:

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.”

SO WHO COMPLIED?

Two of the six ministries contacted were willing to fully comply:  Joyce Meyer Ministries and Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church.  Both groups reported that they were working on reforming financial practices of their respective ministries.

Again the CNN states: “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.”

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.

GRASSLEY REPORT FINDINGS:

A 61 page report was presented and can be found here –  SFC Staff Memo to Grassley re Ministries 01-06-11 FINAL.

“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.

Grassley made the following comment as this phase of his worked seemed to come to an end, “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.”

QUESTION:

Do you think that the actions taken by the six ministries was appropriate and sufficient?

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


Kenneth Copeland Ministries – Why Not Comply with Grassley’s Requests? What’s There to Hide?

April 6, 2008

On November 5, 2007 Senator Charles Grassley wrote six ministries – one being Kenneth Copeland Ministries – asking a series of questions related to the non-profit organizations’ expenses, treatment of donations and business practices. The questions were based on presentations of material from watchdog groups and whistleblowers and on investigative reports in local media outlets.

 

Of the six ministries from whom material has been requested – according to a news release from Senator Grassley:

Three ministries have not cooperated, citing privacy protections or questioning the committee’s standing to request the information. Baucus and Grassley wrote to them on March 11 to describe the committee’s jurisdiction and role in determining the effectiveness of tax policy developed by the committee, distinct from the Internal Revenue Service’s role, which is to enforce existing law.

 

The three ministries are: Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Newark, Texas; Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International/Creflo Dollar Ministries College Park, Ga.; and Eddie L. Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church/Eddie L. Long Ministries, Lithonia, Ga.

Senator Grassley and Senator Max Baucus sent the following letter to the Copeland Ministries requesting their cooperation again! The letter is shown below:

March 11, 2008

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland

Kenneth Copeland Ministries

14355 Morris Dido Road

Newark, TX 76071

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Copeland:

 

As senior members of the United States Senate and as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Finance, it is our duty under the Constitution to conduct oversight into matters related to legislation enacted by Congress. The purpose of oversight is to determine how well a particular agency of the executive branch is administering legislation enacted by Congress, if a particular law or section of the law is being administered in a manner consistent with the intent of Congress and what changes might be required to a law to improve and enhance it. Oversight through the committee system is an important way for Congress to determine if the laws of this country are sound and if they are administered according to the intent of Congress.

One of the roles of the Finance Committee under the Standing Rules of the Senate encompasses the exercise of oversight over the administration of the federal tax revenue system by the Internal Revenue Service to make sure that its rules and procedures meet the purpose and intent of the revenue code, including those rules applicable to non-profit organizations. In order to do this effectively, the Committee needs to understand clearly and specifically how non-profit organizations are structured and operate.

On November 5, 2007, Ranking Member Grassley sent a letter requesting information from your ministry related to the laws that govern tax-exempt organizations. While the inquiry is not part of an enforcement action, which would properly belong to the IRS, it is within the jurisdiction of the Committee to make these inquiries. The Committee conferred with the Senate Legal Counsel to ensure that the letter was well within the scope of the authority of the Committee and that it does not infringe upon First Amendment rights.

Prior to your organization determining whether to submit the requested information, Committee staff members met with your legal counsel to explain the purpose of the investigation and to address your specific concerns. The Committee recognizes the concerns regarding the privacy and confidentiality of certain records and has offered to work with your organization to protect any proprietary or confidential information. Unfortunately, the information submitted by your organization was incomplete. Staff members contacted your legal counsel in an attempt to secure further cooperation and once again address your concerns. To date, you and/or your legal counsel have not provided the requested information to Senator Grassley, nor offered any assurances that the information would be forthcoming.

The Committee continues to hope that mutually respectful discussions will enable the Committee to obtain the requested information without resorting to compulsory process. Therefore, as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Finance, we are affording you another opportunity to send the information requested by Senator Grassley in the letter dated November 5, 2007. Our office should receive the requested documentation no later than March 31, 2008.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, and we look forward to your cooperation.

Sincerely,

 

Max Baucus Charles Grassley

Chairman Ranking Member

What I must admit I’m confounded by is why Kenneth Copeland and his ministries refuse to cooperate. It states in the Bible – Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. In this case Caesar is the government and the law which gives Kenneth Copeland Ministries the right to operate in a tax free environment. If all laws are being followed, then what is there to hide?

Copeland, in my opinion, has made some amazing statements in his effort to elect not to comply. The following is quoted from a report in the Baptist Press:

Kenneth Copeland Ministries provided a cover letter from its legal counsel, 23 pages of answers to questions and 291 pages of supporting material in response to Grassley’s initial request, Copeland said on the ministry’s website. The information was “incomplete,” however, Baucus and Grassley said in their letter to the Copelands.

Copeland lambasted Grassley in a Jan. 22 address at his annual ministers conference, according to a report in Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper.

Saying he would not disclose information on his ministry’s donors, Copeland said, “You can go get a subpoena, and I won’t give it to you! It’s not yours, it’s God’s and you’re not going to get it and that’s something I’ll go to prison over. So, just get over it! And if there’s a death penalty that applies, well just go for it!

“You wanna get in a faith fight with me?” Copeland said, according to Roll Call. “Why, just come on. But, I’m gonna warn you. I fight dirty. I got somebody else does my fighting for me. I just sit back and watch.

“I just throw the first punch and then get out and let my angels go to work.”

Let my angels go to work? I believe in the power of God. I also believe in the responsibility we have to comply with the law and respect the law of man, just as we should respect the law of God. From an ethics perspective what does this all mean? The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) has encouraged cooperation by the televangelists, but the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) has expressed concerns about the probe’s implications for ministries.

None of the six ministries is a member of either ECFA or NRB.

“It’s good to see the majority of the ministries offering information,” Grassley said. “They receive generous tax-breaks as non-profit organizations. In general, the federal treasury forgoes billions of tax-dollars a year to tax-exempt groups. The ministries sharing of material with the Senate Committee in charge of tax-policy shows an interest in accountability for their special tax status.”

As of the deadline – Kenneth Copeland Ministries and those ministries of Creflo Dollar have refused to cooperate fully (if much as all).

What are the ethics ramifications of these ministries refusing to cooperate?

Your comments are welcome!

 


Kenneth Copeland – Godfather of ‘Prosperity Gospel’? Why Not Comply with Grassley?

February 6, 2008

CBS Evening News recently did a story on Kenneth Copeland Ministries and the related public investigation launched by Senator Charles Grassley. The article CBS Investigates is linked here. Copeland Article

The senate investigation relates to compliance with the tax laws governing non-profit organizations. The question is whether the ministry resources are being diverted into for profit business that the Copelands own or have control of such as aviation, real-estate development and texas oil and gas wells.

A portion of the article is reprinted here:

“It’s a business, it’s a bottom-line business,” said a former ministry employee – who feared being identified. The employee answered hundreds of prayer requests a day, most sent in with donations, before quitting, feeling “betrayed” by Copeland’s gospel of prosperity.

Michael Hoover, who worked for Kenneth Copeland Ministries for five years, quit in 2005 over disagreements with the church. He says he witnessed other employees doing work on behalf of for-profit businesses tied to the Copeland family.

“In my viewpoint, I believe that they were using a lot of the ministry’s assets for personal businesses,” he said.

“The nonprofit activity and the for-profit activity are so intertwined that you can’t, you can’t separate them,” said Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation.

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Kenneth Copeland recently stated: “You render unto the government what belongs to the government. And you render unto God what belongs to God,” he said, according to the newspaper. “You can go get a subpoena, and I won’t give it to you,” Mr. Copeland continues. “It’s not yours, it’s God’s and you’re not going to get it and that’s something I’ll go to prison over. So, just get over it.”

Here’s the question, what would keep the Kenneth Copeland Ministries from being fully compliant with the Senator’s request?

As a business ethics speaker (www.chuckgallagher.com) I understand that every choice has a consequence. What will be the consequences of Copeland’s non-compliance?


Senator Grassley Not Backing Off from Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, and Other Ministry Requests!

February 6, 2008

According to a report from the News and Observer, “Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said Friday that he has no intention of backing off from his investigation of six lavishly spending ministries, despite what he said was considerable “pullback” from those ministries.”

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Senator Chuck Grassley had requested in 2007 financial material from six mega-ministries: Randy and Paula White of Tampa, Fla.; Benny Hinn Ministries in Grapevine, Texas; Joyce Meyer Ministries in Fenton, Mo.; Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga.; Creflo Dollar Ministries in Atlanta, Ga.; and Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas.

Thus far the only ministry that has complied completely was Joyce Meyer Ministries. The Kenneth Copeland Ministries has been reported to have complied partially, but Copeland has resisted publicly. Likewise, Creflo Dollar Ministries, has refused to voluntarily provide any information and said it would await a subpoena and Eddie Long has resisted as well.

Grassley, the Iowa senator, a Baptist, was invited to the New Baptist Covenant by former president Jimmy Carter. During a 25-minute address, he spoke about hunger. But later, at a news conference, most of the questions dealt with his controversial investigation into the ministries.

Grassley said he plans to send follow-up letters to those ministries that have so far snubbed his initial requests for information about their spending.

“We’ll deal with them in the way of encouraging,” Grassley said. “I think it’s a case of people waking up and realizing that they have nothing to hide.

Grassley explained that he began the investigation last year after seeing newspaper and television investigations about how these ministries reward their leaders.

“It’s nothing about the message,” said Grassley. “It’s about obeying the tax laws.”

Grassley said he wants to make sure the ministries are not abusing their tax-exempt status, but he said he was loath to consider subpoenas for now.

As a business ethics speaker, (www.chuckgallagher.com) I have had many comments about the ethics involved with the Grassley requests. Most of the ethics issues surround the governments requests and the ministries responses.

Questions:

What is the motivation behind not complying with the senator’s request?

If there is nothing to hide, should the ministries comply?

Does their resistance and non-compliance color your view of the ministries in question?


Senator Grassley To Ministries – You Better Cooperate! Additional Information Sought from Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long and Others

January 29, 2008

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When the Senator from Iowa asks for information over which he has authority – well, let’s put it this way, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” and in this case – Grassley is Caesar when it comes to the taxing authority of the government.

Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, is preparing another round of letters to Christian television ministries, prodding them to answer questions about their spending and the way they are governed, a spokeswoman said back in mid-January.

Jill Gerber, Grassley’s finance committee spokeswoman, said the the follow-up letters would go out in the next few weeks to ministries that have raised concerns or not responded. Gerber said the letters will describe Congress’ authority and duty to investigate and evaluate laws over which it has legislative authority—in this case, tax-exempt policy.

“Customarily, people come to recognize the wisdom of responding to requests by senior members of the Finance Committee, and particularly by Sen. Grassley, before a subpoena becomes necessary,” she said.

Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the finance committee chairman, has not commented publicly on Grassley’s investigation. But Carol Guthrie, communications director for the committee’s Democratic staff, said this week Baucus is aware of the investigation, and suggested that the ministries ought to cooperate.

Gaining support of the Democratic chairman would not only give the investigation added heft, it would deflect criticism like that of Dollar, the most outspoken critic among the ministers under scrutiny.

So what’s next: Well, it appears that the next move is in the hands of the ministries in question. It seems that some want to fight, like Creflo Dollar. Dollar commented on the Fox Business Network that he felt is was Grassley, and not the committee, who was pushing the investigation.

Considering the comment from the Democratic Finance Committee Chairman, Max Baucus, it would appear that Creflo needs to rethink his position. One doesn’t want to get into a power play with the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Right now, I don’t think politics are on the side of any of the ministers or their ministries. Thus far the only ministry that has taken the high road (and who I feel will be rewarded for her position) is the Missouri-based Joyce Meyer Ministries. Smart move on her part.

Otherwise, it is reported that Kenneth Copeland ministries is willing to cooperate, but to what extent is not clear. Neither has there been much word from Benny Hinn and his ministries. Eddie Long and Creflo Dollar have both taken a public fighting stand – an unwise move in my opinion.

My guess, as this is written, is that Grassley has signaled, much like Bush before the Iraq war, his intention giving the uncooperative ministries another chance to comply. Lack of compliance by the end of January will result in further investigation and an outcome that many of these folk don’t really want.

I could be wrong, but it seems like the writing is on the wall. What Creflo and Eddie don’t want is Senator Grassley’s version of “Shock and Awe!”

You thoughts?

Business Ethics Speaker, Chuck Gallagher, signing off…


Church Doctrine! Come On Eddie, I Just Want To See If You Obey The Law! Grassley Spurned By Eddie Long And Others

December 9, 2007

Well, the deadline came and went and only two of the six ministries provided the data that Senator Charles Grassley (R, Iowa) requested. Joyce Meyer, of Missouri, complied as did Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, of Texas. Atlanta ministers Rev. Creflo Dollar (World Changers Church International) and Eddie Long (New Birth Missionary Baptist Church) failed to provide the financial information Sen. Grassley requested. Both, through their attorneys, said that Senator Grassley had crossed the line and was not entitled to the information.

According to writer Christopher Quinn of the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

Attorneys for Dollar and Long sent letters in response.

The letter from Dollar’s attorney expresses concern about giving documents to the government, explaining such action could trample on the constitutional rights of people to practice religious beliefs without government interference.

The letter says the six ministries targeted preach the “…’Prosperity Gospel,’ a deeply held religious belief that God’s devout followers and earthly leaders will prosper and be successful in all they do, including in financial matters, as the outward expression of his favor.”

It went on to say, “… we believe that the religious doctrine and practices of a church should not be held out for the world to evaluate as a result of responding to Congressional inquiries.”

It says Grassley should get a subpoena or to refer his request for a review to the Internal Revenue Service.

A written response from Long’s attorney says Grassley’s request is informal, and that it “clearly disregards the privacy protections of the Church under law and appears to cross the line of Constitutional guarantees for churches.”

Mac Hunter, of Atlanta’s Morris, Manning & Martin office, said by phone he believes the letter is a sufficient reply to Grassley’s request.

It’s seems to be an interesting position to take – privacy? Privacy for financial documents that are easily obtained by the IRS? Perhaps I’m missing something (feel free to share with your comments), but if the IRS can get the data, aren’t the folks who refuse to comply bringing on a world of trouble for themselves and the ministries they represent?

Not once in Grassley’s request was there any indication of doctrine or issues with belief. Rather, Grassley’s requests were specific related to financial details of the ministries and how that related to the ministers. Grassley issued a statement:

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“I have an obligation to protect the integrity of U.S. tax laws,” Grassley said in a written statement. “If tax-exempt organizations, including media-based ministries, thumb their noses at the laws governing their preferential tax treatment, the American public, their contributors and the Internal Revenue Service have a right to know. Considering tax-exempt media-based ministries today are a billion-dollar industry with minimal transparency, it would be irresponsible not to examine this tax-exempt part of our economy.”

Some questions to consider:

  • If you have nothing to hide, why not comply?
  • If the IRS has the right to audit or investigate, why not comply?
  • The issue that Grassley has at the core of his investigation is undue enrichment from the ministry, if you believe that God has blessed and, as a minister, you have not been unduly enriched, why not comply?

Every choice has a consequence. As an ethics speaker, I know, as I’ve suffered the consequences of poor choices. Perhaps those who lead their flocks will “render unto Caesar, what is Caesar’s” and comply. Perhaps, it’s just me, but if the same were asked of Billy Graham, I would bet compliance would be swift knowing that he had nothing to hide.

Comments are welcome!