DALLAS — A Christian television ministry targeted by a Senate committee investigation into possible financial wrongdoing has asked the Internal Revenue Service to audit its finances.
Attorneys for Kenneth Copeland Ministries sent a letter to the IRS’ Office of Examinations on Monday saying the church was willing to cooperate with a tax inquiry by the agency. Dallas television station KTVT first reported the North Texas-based church’s request for an IRS audit.
Leaders of the television ministry contend dozens of questions about expenses, executive compensation and amenities asked by Sen. Charles Grassley are similar to those posed in an IRS church tax inquiry. In the letter, attorneys for the ministry say the appropriate procedure would be for Grassley to obtain the information from the IRS after it conducts an audit of the church.
“At the conclusion of a properly conducted church tax inquiry, the Senate Committee on Finance could obtain the information Senator Grassley is seeking from the IRS through a request,” the letter said.
Copeland representatives previously delivered a letter to Grassley reiterating that the IRS, and not a Senate committee, should be dealing with the questions the Senator raised.
“The church is confident that, upon the conclusion of a 90-day church tax inquiry … the IRS will conclude that it is unnecessary to pursue a church tax examination,” the letter sent to the IRS said.
Dallas tax attorney Charles Blau said the church’s strategy could fail if the Senate committee subpoenas the Copeland ministry.
“The church is saying this is a First Amendment religious issue and a Senate committee does not have a right to this financial information. I think they’re probably going to loose that argument. There are limits on non-reporting of financial information,” Blau said.
Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, sent letters to six ministries as part of an investigation. Grassley said stories of excessive lifestyles and spending by ministry leaders caused him to wonder if the tax breaks given to churches were being abused.
The other organizations and leaders being investigated are:
Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries of Tampa, Fla.;
Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church Inc. and Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas;
David and Joyce Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo.;
Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Eddie Long Ministries of Lithonia, Ga.;
Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar Ministries of College Park, Ga.
The IRS requires that pastors’ compensation be “reasonable,” a figure set by collecting comparable salaries and weighing factors such as church size and a pastor’s value to the congregation. IRS rules prevent pastors and other insiders from excessive personal gain through their tax-exempt work.
Texas televangelist Kenneth Copeland is one of the founders of the modern prosperity gospel movement, which holds that God wants his faithful followers to be rewarded spiritually and financially.