Saturday, November 10, 2007
Televangelists Facing Scrutiny
Excerpts from CBS46.com News Atlanta, Nov.6, 2007
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent letters Monday asking media-oriented ministers around the country to provide documents detailing their finances by Dec. 6.
They include Joyce Meyer, one of America's wealthiest and most powerful TV preachers who has built a $124-million-a-year empire headquartered in the St. Louis suburb of Fenton.
A 2003 series in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch detailed her lavish lifestyle and blunt fundraising pitches.
"I'm following up on complaints from the public and news coverage regarding certain practices at six ministries," Grassley said in a statement.
"The allegations involve governing boards that aren't independent and allow generous salaries and housing allowances and amenities such as private jets and Rolls-Royces.
"I don't want to conclude that there's a problem, but I have an obligation to donors and the taxpayers to find out more. People who donated should have their money spent as intended and in adherence with the tax code."
Grassley's letter asked Meyer to provide his staff with documents detailing the finances of the Joyce Meyer Ministries, including the religious group's compensation to Meyer, her husband and other family members, as well as an accounting of their housing allowances, gifts and credit card statements for the last several years.
Among other things, the letter asked for a "detailed accounting" of all her and her husband's expense-account items, including clothing and cosmetic surgery, information about any overseas bank accounts and deposits, and the tax-exempt purpose of items at her ministry's headquarters, such as a $23,000 marble-topped commode, a $30,000 conference table and an $11,219 French clock.
Federal law grants churches tax-exempt status and excludes them from reporting requirements, but prohibits their leaders and founders from dipping into the organizations' accounts for their own personal use. Expenses of any tax-exempt organization are supposed to further the cause or goals of that entity.
Grassley's staff and other ministry watchdogs said that media-oriented ministries, once known simply as televangelists, are now a billion-dollar industry with little to no oversight from an overburdened IRS.