Four televangelists, under investigation for the way they raise and spend money, did not turn over financial information by Thursday, the deadline set by the Senate Finance Committee, including one preacher who challenged the committee to subpoena him.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), who is leading the investigation, said in a statement that he would wait for the ministers to send the information voluntarily. But the refusal and slow responses may force the senator into an uncomfortable choice: should legislators force religious entities to divulge financial details they are not required by law to share, risking the anger of religious voters who are being heavily courted in the walkup to the presidential election?
One minister may force the committee to make that choice: a tax attorney for Creflo Dollar, pastor of World Changers Church Intl. of College Park, Ga., told the Senate Finance Committee leadership that they would have to issue a subpoena to force him to turn over information. In the letter, the attorney, Marcus Owens, of Washington, D.C., said the minister was compelled to share those details only with the Internal Revenue Service, and asked the committee to refer any tax concerns to that agency.
Turning over information through a subpoena would keep the church’s information from being released to the public, Mr. Owens said in an interview. “It guarantees you privacy,” Mr. Owens said. “Subpoenaed documents cannot be placed on a Web site.”
Sen. Grassley said, in a statement, “I’m willing to give ministries more time if that’s needed, as long as they’re cooperating and in contact with my office,” he said. A member of the senator’s staff said a subpoena “is an option, but he’d rather not go to that step.”
Senate finance committee subpoenas are issued in one of two ways: either jointly by the Democratic and Republican leaders, or by the leader and a majority of committee members. An aide to Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), the committee chairman, said the office had not received any subpoena request from Mr. Grassley. The two leaders last issued a subpoena for lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Mr. Grassley’s staff said Thursday evening that they had received packets of information from Kenneth Copeland, of Newark, Texas, and Joyce Meyer, of St. Louis. Spokeswomen for the two ministries confirmed that.
Attorneys for Benny Hinn of Grapevine, Texas, are scheduled to meet with Mr. Grassley’s staff Friday, they said. In a statement, a spokesman said Mr. Hinn would be responding to the Senate’s request by Jan. 30.
Paula and Randy White, pastors of Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Fla. asked for an extension, the senator’s staff said. They did not hear from one pastor, Eddie Long, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Livonia, Ga. [Update: Eddie Long refuses to submit information]
A spokeswoman for the Whites said she had no information. A spokesman for Mr. Long could not be reached for comment.