WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who is investigating the finances of six prominent evangelical ministries, said Dec. 7 he doesn’t plan to hold hearings on any individual ministry and hopes he won’t have to subpoena any of them.
But in response to critics who wonder if his investigation into alleged lavish spending is too broad, Grassley said he simply expects tax-exempt ministries to follow the law.
“I think their fear is that we’re going to get involved in doctrine, in the internal teachings of the church,” said Grassley, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, in an interview. “That’s none of my business. But churches have to realize that they aren’t any different from any other nonprofit organization. They have to abide by the tax laws.”
Grassley had set a deadline of Dec. 6 for the ministries to respond to his requests for detailed financial information.
As of that deadline:
“¢ An attorney for Creflo Dollar Ministries in College Park, Ga., wrote a letter to Grassley suggesting a request for information should come from the Internal Revenue Service or, possibly, a congressional subpoena.
“¢ Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas, had delivered a package of material.
“¢ Joyce Meyer Ministries in Fenton, Mo., sent a package of material.
“¢ Lawyers for Benny Hinn Ministries in Grapevine, Texas, held a meeting with Grassley’s staff on Dec. 7, according to a ministry spokesman.
“¢ Attorneys for Randy and Paula White of Tampa, Fla., contacted Grassley’s staff.
“¢ Representatives of Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., had not sent material or made contact with Grassley but had said publicly they would cooperate.
“As long as they’re cooperating, we obviously will be flexible because we want information,” Grassley said. “When we send the letter, I’m not sure we have the appreciation of how much work it might be to get all the stuff together.”
As for Dollar’s ministry, which appears to have no plans to comply, Grassley says he hopes it won’t come to the point where he needs to consider a subpoena.
“He would be the first nonprofit that’s refused to cooperate,” said Grassley, who has investigated nonprofits such as the Smithsonian Institution and the American Red Cross over the last five years. “I think Mr. Dollar would have a difficult time explaining why he wasn’t cooperating if the other five were.”
Grassley said many of the nonprofits he’s investigated have voluntarily made changes in their operations after probes demonstrated inadequacies.
“We didn’t have to force anything down their throat,” he said. “We’ve only made very little change in law. I would hope that the ministries would be self-correcting.”
The senator could not predict how long the investigation would last.
“We don’t have to be in a hurry,” he said. “And we try to be deliberate and thoughtful.”