'Grassley Six' Likely Probed for Three Areas, ECFA Head Tells Church Executive Magazine
Contact: Ron Keener, Church Executive, 800-541-2670 ext.204
PHOENIX, Nov. 14 /Christian Newswire/ -- The head of a financial accountability group for Christian nonprofits says that the Senate Finance Committee is likely to be looking at three areas of operation of "the Grassley Six," as he calls them, major ministries headed by Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyer and Randy and Paula White.
Ken Behr, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, told Church Executive, a business magazine for larger and mega churches, that Senator Chuck Grassley is likely to probe into concerns over excessive compensation, income unrelated to the business purpose of the ministries, and perks or what is known as "excessive benefit transactions."
Grassley's committee has asked the ministries to supply information by Dec. 6. The new round of investigations announced last week are in fact a continuation of probes over the years into religious and other nonprofit ministries and charitable organizations, Behr says. But Behr gives the senator the benefit of the doubt.
"Senator Grassley really wants the nonprofit to act like a nonprofit. In Washington circles they talk a lot about the government subsidy of nonprofits. The charitable deduction you get to make at the end of the year is seen as a subsidy; from the government's perspective that's money out of their pockets.
"We don't look at it that way. It's not their money, never has been their money," Behr says.
Still, Behr sees Grassley as wanting "to be able to point to evangelical charities as being the gold standard for nonprofits. And I think he's disappointed because we're not quite there yet."
Behr's ECFA group reviews the audited financial statements of some 2,000 religious ministries and agencies which hold themselves up to the organization's seven standards for financial management, governance, and transparency.
None of the six ministries being looked at by the Grassley committee, where he is ranking member, are members of the ECFA, nor is Oral Roberts University, which the IRS has said recently they are looking into several matters of the administration of President Richard Roberts.
Of the six organizations under investigation, only two or three have a church connection. Behr says that the Grassley Six are relatively large media ministries that are organized as churches. Churches don't have to file Form 990 with the government each year that nonprofits have to file.
Could ECFA have helped the six ministries stay away from government scrutiny nevertheless? "I think it's telling that these are not members of the ECFA," Behr says. Had they been they would have benefited from the ECFA's continuing education and have accessed the standards and best practices of financially well-run ministry groups.
"We try to set a little higher standard than just legal compliance," Behr says. "I wish these ministries well. I hope any small problems they have in their ministries, they correct. If there are some fines to be paid, that they pay them and move on and change their ways."
One of the problems in these recurring investigations is that ministries have gotten larger than ever before and that more money is going through the organizations. "There's more opportunity for somebody to misuse it," Behr says.
More from the interview with Ken Behr on these and other topics will appear in the January 2008 issue of Church Executive.