Churches don't have to file tax returns with the IRS, nor are they required to share audited financial statements describing their tax exempt dealings. They don't have to publish the names of their board of directors or respond to reporter's questions. Now, five televangelist ministries under investigation by Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have decided they don't need to be accountable to the U.S. Senate either.
So who is accountable?
Kenneth Copeland Ministries told Senate investigators that the church is only required to answer to the IRS and indicated they would welcome an IRS audit.
Hundreds of ministries nationwide are voluntary members of Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), which vets their financial information. So far, none of the ministries that Senator Grassley is investigating have signed up with ECFA.
Hundreds more sign up with Ministry Watch, a Christian organization that monitors the financial accountability of ministries and advises donors as to where to contribute. Ministry Watch tells CBS News it asked Kenneth Copeland Ministries for their financials 21 times, only to be told by one of Copeland's attorneys to stop asking.
"Our position is though, that if there is nothing illegal going on, why not disclose it?" asks Warren Smith of Ministry Watch in an interview with CBS News. "If there is nothing to hide, why are you hiding it?"
Representatives from Kenneth Copeland Ministries say all of their financial dealings are "squeaky clean."
But as Grassley's inquiry applies pressure nationwide, there are signs that financial transparency may be on its way to some of these mega-ministries. For example, one of the ministries under investigation has complied with Grassley's questions: Joyce Meyer Ministries of Missouri. Read the response here>.
And recently, the board of directors at Oral Roberts University, the epicenter of televangelism, was eliminated. Out with the televangelists and in with a new board dominated by former students and academicians. Gone is Kenneth Copeland and his son-in-law, the former chairman of the ORU board. The university also announced … it will soon become a member of ECFA.
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