Features

Four for fighting

Charity | Clash escalates between ministries and lawmaker

Issue: "Summer of '68," Aug. 9, 2008

On July 7, Charles Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, announced that only two of the six televangelists from whom he had sought information have made good faith and substantive responses.

The two are Joyce Meyer (Joyce Meyer Ministries) and Benny Hinn (World Healing Center Church). The other four ministries-led by Randy and Paula White, Eddie Long, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, and Creflo and Taffi Dollar-have so far failed to engage in what Grassley called "open and honest dialogue" with his staff.

In an unusual "Memorandum to Reporters and Editors," Grassley also made a forceful case for what he believes is the Finance Committee's right to conduct this investigation, which he began last November. He concluded: "The ministries that continue not to cooperate appear to be heeding the advice of attorneys who are not familiar with congressional oversight in general and specifically the Finance Committee's oversight and legislative work in the area of tax-exempt organizations over the last seven years."

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If that were not enough, the Grassley statement also took a shot at the lawyers representing the noncompliant ministries: "These attorneys who aren't part of the ministries themselves have a natural incentive to prolong the process as long as possible."

Kenneth Copeland's attorneys fired back with a statement a week later: "The Church's position continues to be that it has responded to the request of Senator Grassley in good faith and to the greatest extent possible without compromising the privacy, confidentiality, and freedom of association rights and protections afforded to the Church by the United States Constitution and the Internal Revenue Code."

Jill Gerber, a spokesperson for Grassley, told WORLD, "We are receiving information from other sources, from whistleblowers, and developing details." She added that the upcoming elections will have no impact on the investigation. "Sen. Grassley has no time constraints," she said. "He'll still be the ranking member after the election. In January, he can pick up where he left off."

So does that mean subpoenas are in the future for the noncompliant ministries? Grassley and his aides have been careful not to rule out that possibility. But they continue to say they prefer voluntary compliance. "Both Joyce Meyer and Benny Hinn are instituting reforms without waiting for the committee to complete its review," Grassley said. "Self-reform can be faster and more effective than government regulation. I support voluntary, independent accreditation programs like those sponsored by the Land Trust Alliance and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and encourage these ministries to pursue similar accreditation."

Money changing

By Rusty Leonard and Warren Cole Smith

First-term Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann is calling for an end to the tax-exempt status of Planned Parenthood. She said the organization, which brings in more than $1 billion a year-almost a third of that from government grants and contracts-no longer fits the criteria of a public charity that needs 501(c)(3) protections. She also questioned whether public funds given to Planned Parenthood for "voter identification and community education" were being used as contracted. She said they were identifying liberal voters and educating communities about how to get abortions. Bachmann concluded: "Planned Parenthood 
should be truthful with the American people, and start paying taxes."

Rusty Leonard and Warren Cole Smith
Rusty Leonard and Warren Cole Smith

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