It could also, Wead said, cause problems for Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, who has appeared on some of Copeland’s services. After Grassley’s letter arrived, Copeland said in the Jan. 22 service that he offered Huckabee a chance to break his association with him.
Huckabee “hollered at me on the phone. He said, ‘Are you kidding me? Why should I stand with them and not with you? They’ve only got an 11 percent approval rating.’”
“I said, ‘Yeah, that’s my man,’” Copeland said of Huckabee.
By law, churches do not have to file a 990 form with the IRS as many other nonprofit groups are required to do. Thus, their financial information is usually private. During the course of the probe, Grassley has pledged to be “reasonable” in keeping personal financial information confidential.
While some religious watchdog groups support the Grassley probe, other Christian activists urge caution, contending that Grassley is treading on thin ice because of church-state separation.
Kenneth Behr, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, supports the probe because it is similar to inquiries of other nonprofits and because he believes the Finance Committee will keep appropriate information private.
A former Ford Motor Co. executive, Behr said that as evangelical churches grow, they need to adopt practical financial practices used in the corporate world to keep their money in order.
“There’s been a number of my friends that have encouraged me to think again about whether I would support this kind of inquiry,” Behr conceded. But he added, “Ministers who have nothing to hide have nothing to hide.”
The battle began on Nov. 6 when Grassley sent a detailed letter requesting financial records from six televangelists addressing compensation, board members, and payment for the use of jets, opulent homes, furniture and fancy cars such as Rolls-Royces. Compliance with the letters is voluntary, and Grassley is preparing a second round of letters to be distributed in the next few weeks.
“If they don’t cooperate, it would be very unusual. I’ve looked at a number of nonprofit groups over the years and they’ve all cooperated,” Grassley said in a Dec. 6 statement, pointing to a single “extreme” example when the committee did not get help from jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
In order to subpoena the groups, which is described as a last resort, Grassley would need the backing of Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). The two generally work collaboratively.
“Customarily, people come to recognize the wisdom of responding to requests by senior members of the Finance Committee, and particularly by Sen. Grassley, before a subpoena becomes necessary,” said a Baucus spokeswoman.
As of last week, Grassley aides say only one church — Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo. — agreed to cooperate and submitted some materials by the Senator’s Dec. 6 deadline. Another, Creflo Dollar’s World Changers Church International of College Park, Ga., said it would not provide information without a subpoena. Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church Inc. in Grapevine, Texas, and Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Fla., have been in touch with the Senator, and they say they are preparing a response by Jan. 31. Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., has not sent data.