WASHINGTON — Television ministers Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar again have declined to answer questions sparked by news coverage of lavish lifestyles, according to a U.S. senator pushing the investigation.
Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, however, played down the significance of Copeland’s vow that he would go to jail before handing over certain information.
“That isn’t unusual,” Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said in an interview. “And I don’t blame them for being cautious.”
Citing his oversight of other nonprofit organizations and their tax status, the senator said Copeland’s reaction is not all that different than the reactions received from others over the past five years.
“They wonder what you are up to. They wonder what do you want,” Grassley said. “They don’t understand what congressional oversight is, and, in the case of ministers, they are fearful of the First Amendment (issues).”
When pressed on whether Copeland’s vow to go to jail was a bit more unusual, Grassley said he did not want to comment on that specifically.
He also declined to set a timeline for dealing with Copeland and Dollar’s refusal to answer questions or handling information from the ministries of Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Eddie Long and Paula and Randy White.
“There is no time limit for us to dwell on this stuff,” Grassley said.
“And I want to make people like the Copelands feel as comfortable as they can. If they want to talk to me, I’d be even personally glad to talk to them because if they think we are up to some sort of mischief, I think I can satisfy them that we are just doing what our constitutional responsibilities are.”
Representatives for Copeland and Dollar did not return phone calls.
Copeland had supplied a packet of information, but Grassley’s office said this week it did not provide answers to the senator’s questions.
In a February letter to supporters, still posted on his ministry’s Web site, Copeland made it clear he did not intend to comply with the Grassley requests. He cited Scripture in stating his ministry provides financial information to the Internal Revenue Service but not to others.
“I gave my solemn oath to the Lord Jesus 41 years ago that I would never, under any circumstance, give anyone the names of my Partners or the name of anyone else who has given an offering of any kind to this ministry,” Copeland wrote.
“If it were to come to it, I would go to jail before I would break my word on this.”
According to Grassley, Dollar had indicated that a subpoena would be necessary.
In a television appearance several months ago, Dollar disputed some of the information used by Grassley in justifying the investigation.
“Of course, we don’t have any problems complying to a valid request,” Dollar said, but questioned whether the Senate panel should become a tax examiner.
Grassley triggered the standoff last November when he wrote to the six media ministries, asking them questions covering issues such as ministers’ compensation, housing allowances, jets, cars, credit card statements and love offerings. He made no specific allegations of wrongdoing but said he was looking into such matters after news coverage of ministries’ certain practices.
Grassley’s letters were sent during a controversy that engulfed Oral Roberts University. Three of the six — Copeland, Hinn and Dollar — were ORU regents at the time.
A second letter was sent last month, and it was signed by Grassley and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.