Senator Grassley (R.-Iowa) is investigating several TV ministries. The Washington Post reports
After receiving reports of lavish spending at the ministries, Grassley said yesterday that he has requested detailed documents on the finances of the organizations, which bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in donations annually.
All of the ministries have been the target of complaints for years by watchdog organizations, which have alleged that the groups' charismatic leaders dip deeply into donations to fund extravagant lifestyles.
The Grassley investigation is "well-deserved and well-overdue," said Rusty Leonard, who runs MinistryWatch.com, which examines how nonprofit Christian organizations spend donations.
Grassley, who in recent years has forced changes in such nonprofit organizations as the American Red Cross, the Nature Conservancy, American University and the Smithsonian Institution, said in a statement that the allegations involve such amenities as private jets and Rolls-Royces. He has also asked for credit card records, clothing and jewelry expenses and any cosmetic surgery expenses.
Meyer, who is based in Fenton, Mo., has said that her accouterments, including multimillion-dollar homes and luxury cars, are blessings from God.
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The letters sent Monday were the culmination of a long investigation fueled in part by complaints from Ole Anthony, a crusader against religious fraud who operates the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, which describes itself as a watchdog monitoring religious media, fraud and abuse. "We've been working with them for two years," Anthony told CBS News. "We have furnished them with enough information to fill a small Volkswagen."
Anthony said after twenty years of working with media organizations to expose televangelists, he saw little reform. He says that's why he turned to another tactic, going straight to Grassley. He is confident that Grassley's inquiry will be different, "What we hope is that this will lead to reform in religious nonprofits."
The structure of many televangelist organizations - in which the leadership is often concentrated in one person or one family - has itself been the target of criticism. "Churches like these are ruled as a dictatorship," says Rod Pitzer, who directs research at Ministry Watch in North Carolina, which provides advice for donors to Christian organizations.
The Wall Street Journal writes of the prosperity gospel (subscribers only)
The ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee is looking into six television evangelists, including Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar and other "prosperity theology" adherents who preach that wealth is a sign of God's favor.
Ministers who espouse prosperity theology promote themselves as conduits for God's blessings, saying that believers will reap benefits as long as they give generously to the ministries. Most evangelical ministers urge believers to donate, but don't link donations to earthly wealth.
In 2005, the Joyce Meyer Ministries began paying more than $2 million in back property taxes on its headquarters after the Jefferson County, Mo., assessor's office alleged it wasn't exclusively used for religious purposes.
John Copeland, the minister's son, is president of Security Petrol Inc., a gas business whose address is the same as the ministry's. The Finance Committee has asked Kenneth Copeland to describe who relinquished church property to a for-profit company and to detail the amount of money paid to the church for the mineral deed.
Mr. Dollar, president of World Changers Church International, draws more than 20,000 people each weekend and regularly preaches at a theater in Madison Square Garden in New York City. He and his wife operate Arrow Records, a closely held gospel-record company, from the church. The committee has asked them to detail their compensation and who owns the rights to their recordings and sermons.