Virtual Voices

Senator questions evangelists' finances

Religion

Sen. Charles Grassley, GOP leader of the Senate Finance Committee, is asking six big ministries to tell him how they spend their donors' dollars.

According to New York Times, ministry leaders have until December 6 to tell Grassley about their compensation, housing allowances, checking and savings accounts, cars, airplanes and overseas trips. In an official statement, Grassley said he was answering public complaints and media coverage about lavish salaries, private jets and fat housing allowances: "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."

The ministry leaders under investigation: Benny Hinn, Creflo and Taffi Dollar, Paula and Randy White, Eddie Long, Joyce and David Meyer, and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. The IRS classifies their ministries as churches and exempts them from reporting finances. But the IRS does require leaders to use donations for ministry purposes only, and Grassley is asking if Meyer's $23,000 marble toilet fits in that category.

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Rod Pitzer, director of research for Ministry Watch, told WoW his organization has already profiled the ministries of Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and Joyce Meyer, awarding the first three an "F" for failing to disclose how they spend donors' dollars. Pitzer said he sees a "tug of war between competing interests:" good ministries that "want to be unshackled by red tape and government," corrupt organizations that "want to go under the radar," donors who want their money used wisely, and government regulators.

Pitzer notes that other ministries - Campus Crusade and the Navigators - voluntarily disclose financial records, pay their leaders reasonable salaries, and open ministry meetings to the public. He said this is the kind of transparency Ministry Watch would like to see other ministries embrace: "Hopefully there's a dialogue about best practices and hopefully those best practices start with openness and transparency and good governance."

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