A top Democratic leader has thrown his support behind an investigation of six "prosperity gospel" Christian ministries.
Sen. Max Baucus of Montana joined with Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley in urging cooperation from four ministries that have not yet responded to the questions posed in early November about lavish spending and lax financial oversite. Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee.
Grassley and Baucus sent follow up letters to the four ministries, giving a March 31 deadline for turning over the requested information. A fourth ministry has indicated it will cooperate.
Having Baucus' support is crucial if subpoenas are needed to force uncooperative ministries to give an account. Grassley, as a minority leader, cannot issue subpoenas.
The follow-up letters do not mention subpoenas specifically, but express hope that the requested information can be obtained "without resorting to compulsory process."
Some ministries have said Grassley's inquiries about private planes, oceanside mansions, board oversight and involvement in for-profit businesses should be handled by the Internal Revenue Service.
But the latest letters cite the Finance Committee's jurisdiction to measure the effectiveness of tax-exempt policy, saying that role is distinct from the IRS job of enforcing existing law.
"This ought to clear up any misunderstanding about our interest and the committee's role," Grassley said. "We have an obligation to oversee how the tax laws are working for both tax-exempt organizations and taxpayers."
All the targeted ministries say they follow IRS rules governing churches.
So far only one ministry, Joyce Meyer Ministries, has turned over information, Grassley's office said. Another ministry, headed by Benny Hinn, has indicated cooperation, but so far has answered just five of 28 questions.
Neither Meyer nor Hinn were among those receiving the follow-up letters.
The follow-up letters were sent to Creflo Dollar and Bishop Eddie Long, both from the Atlanta area, and Kenneth Copeland, whose ministry is based at Newark, Texas.
All three have pledged to fight what they portray as an attack on their religious freedom. Some have expressed worry that private information, including salaries and the donors' identities, would be made public.
The letters from Baucus and Grassley say the committee is willing to work with them to protect confidential information.
A fourth letter went to Paula and Randy White of Tampa, who recently divorced.
Grassley's office said representatives of the Whites have indicated they will cooperate and their letter does not set a deadline for a response.
Source: The Associated Press