Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, concluded his three-year probe into the financial affairs of six prosperity gospel televangelists without handing down any penalties even though only two ministries fully cooperated with the investigation.
Instead, Grassley's report recommends that the Internal Revenue Service form an advisory committee to make sure religious organizations don't abuse their tax-exempt status. Additionally, Grassley asked the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) to lead a national commission to conduct an independent review on accountability and policy within religious organizations.
Grassley's report comes as he ends his tenure as the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee and becomes the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. The senator will remain a member of the Finance Committee.
Donor advocates and ministry watchdogs were disappointed by the announcement. Rod Pitzer of MinistryWatch.com said Grassley's conclusions were "far less than we could have hoped for." Pitzer also criticized Grassley for naming the ECFA to lead the commission, calling it a "cop out" that will end up protecting large organizations at the expense of grassroots donors.
In a statement, Michael Batts, an ECFA board member who will chair the commission, said that "self-regulation and accountability [is what] the ECFA is all about. Its model has worked very well for more than 30 years."
But Pitzer pointed out that self-regulation-at least in its current form-has failed. He noted that less than 2,000 of the more than 1 million religious nonprofit organizations in the country are members of the ECFA. None of the so-called "Grassley Six" televangelists-Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyers, and Randy and Paula White-were members when the investigation began, but Meyers has joined since. Meyers and Hinn's organizations were the only ones of the six that fully cooperated with Grassley's investigation.
"The organizations in question simply refuse to participate in a voluntary process," Pitzer said. "And it's those organizations that refuse to be transparent who are the cause of trouble for all of us."