Grassley won’t give up on televangelists’ reports
WASHINGTON – Media-based televangelists benefiting from tax code exemptions are warned — Sen. Chuck Grassley is a terrier-like congressional inquisitor with time and a big stick on his side.
“I am not threatening them, at this point,” the Iowa Republican said.
Grassley, since late 2007, has sought financial information from six televangelist ministries that watchdog sources told the senator may be enjoying lavish benefits not allowed under their tax-exempt status.
Grassley has asked the groups to open their books to aides on the Finance Committee, which oversees the tax code and the Internal Revenue Service. Some have fully cooperated; others, so-so. And then there is Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Fort Worth, Texas.
A Grassley spokesman said Copeland’s financial analysts grudgingly gave limited information, and then stopped. Copeland was quoted that he was willing to go to prison before divulging information that may violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
Grassley, in the Senate since 1981, routinely cruises to re-election; and intends to stay in office until the voters or God recall him.
“I am in this investigation for the long haul,” Grassley said in an interview.’
In addition to time and taxpayer-funded investigators, Grassley has the power of a subpoena to force the groups to divulge their records.
“I may not have to do that,” he said. “There is no deadline to get this.” Yet.
Churches are generally exempt from income taxes and are eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. Grassley is investigating whether the televangelist groups intended to save souls are doing so through luxurious means that enrich their financial bottom line at the expense of taxpayers.
Ministers, as Copeland, still must pay individual income taxes, Social Security, and Medicare taxes. Taxes are due on any “excess benefits” resulting from their organization.
A spokesman said the preliminary investigation shows there are nearly 100 groups associated with the six ministries; it is not clear if they have or should have not-for-profit tax status.
Some of the churches have significant offshore operations that involve major cash contributions; their tax status is not clear.
Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church responded to general questions and others regarding “real and personal assets” and Senate investigators are seeking more information.
Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church/Eddie L. Long Ministries offered general but incomplete information.
Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International/Creflo Dollar Ministries failed to provide any information, the spokesman said.
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland provided general information but failed to answer questions regarding their compensation, the spokesman said.
“It is not unexpected that some people who are doing something wrong do not want to report it,” Grassley said.