Grassley Says Subpoena of Church Data Possible if Televangelists Do Not Cooperate

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), in his weekly phone call with Iowa reporters March 26, raised the possibility of subpoenaing several televangelists who have failed to cooperate with him in an investigation of their television ministries.

Since 2007, Grassley, Senate Finance Committee ranking member, has been investigating six televangelists for possible abuse of their tax-exempt status after reports of their lavish lifestyles reached his office. Grassley wrote to the television ministers requesting information on expenses, executive compensation, and amenities given to executives at the various ministries (215 DTR G-1, 11/7/07).

Grassley said on the call with reporters that he has received almost complete answers from two of the six ministries, and he is making progress with the others. The two that have given complete answers have submitted themselves to what he called "an evangelical accounting board" to make sure that they are following IRS rules to remain tax exempt.

"It’s kind of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for churches that are members of it to pledge to do certain things to make sure that their money is handled in a secure way as a trustee for the donor’s money," he said.

Joyce Meyer Ministries is one of those that joined the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Grassley learned March 12. The council is an independent body that audits members to maintain accreditation.

For the one or two ministries that are still holding out, Grassley said: "We haven’t decided yet to take the step of a subpoena, but it looks like that’s what we will have to do."

Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas, and the affiliated Eagle Mountain International Church, was one of those that had been holding out. In a July 15 news release, the ministry said it has acted in good faith to respond to inquiries from Grassley but maintained any investigation should be done through an official Internal Revenue Service church tax inquiry, not one initiated by the Senate Finance Committee (142 DTR G-6, 7/24/08).

So far, Grassley said Joyce Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Missouri, and Benedictus Hinn of World Healing Center Church Inc. and Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas, have provided extensive answers to all questions in a series of submissions. Incomplete responses have been submitted by: Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries of Tampa, Florida; Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Eddie Long Ministries of Lithonia, Georgia; and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries.

Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar Ministries of College Park, Georgia, declined to provide any of the requested information.

By Diane Freda

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