Beliefnet News

By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service

Washington – A prominent U.S. senator is seeking financial information from some of the biggest names among evangelical TV ministries following “complaints from the public” and news reports of possible money mismanagement.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, gave the six ministries 30 days to turn over the records, according to letters sent Monday (Nov. 5).
“I’m following up on complaints from the public and news coverage regarding certain practices at six ministries,” Grassley said in a statement. “The allegations involve governing boards that aren’t independent and allow generous salaries and housing allowances and amenities such as private jets and Rolls Royces.”
The letters were sent to 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 College Park, Ga.; and
Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas.
“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,” Grassley said. “People who donated should have their money spent as intended and in adherence with the tax code.”
Ken Behr, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, called the request “quite unusual” and “almost unprecedented.” He said none of the six ministries targeted are members of his Winchester, Va., organization, but he expects it will prompt
others to get their houses in order.
“I think it’s a wake-up call for everybody that financial accountability, transparency, proper accounting processes are important,” said Behr.
The letters follow investigations of the Whites by The Tampa Tribune and a 2003 St. Louis Post-Dispatch series that questioned Meyer’s financial practices.
The Whites, who recently divorced, acknowledged in a statement that they had received the letter.
“We find it unusual, since the IRS has separate powers to investigate religious organizations if they think it’s necessary,” they said. “So we find it odd that the IRS did not initiate this
Meyer’s ministry posted a statement on its Web site, saying that “Joyce Meyer Ministries is committed to financial transparency. We are diligently working on the presented requests and will continue to take the necessary steps to maintain our financial integrity.”
Long’s ministry also issued a statement saying he intends to “fully comply” with the request. “New Birth has several safeguards put in place to insure all transactions are in compliance with laws applicable to churches.”
Responses from other ministries could not be immediately obtained.
Information requested by Grassley included:
— audited financial statements from 2004-2006
— names and addresses of board members
— detailed explanations of compensation paid to ministry leaders
— payments to ministry leaders not reported as income to the Internal Revenue Service on Forms W-2 and 1099
— statements for credit cards used by ministry leaders for expenses paid by their ministries
— lists of vehicles owned or leased by ministries for the benefit of their leaders.
At this point, Grassley is not seeking Senate hearings, said Jill Gerber, his committee press secretary. The six ministries were asked to respond by Dec. 6.
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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