Rev. Creflo Dollar, one of the six television evangelists who have been asked to turn over financial records to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, told 11Alive News on Wednesday that he will comply with the request and cooperate with the Senate investigation launched by Sen. Charles Grassley, (R) Iowa.
“It’s important that we work with the Senator,” Dollar said, “because we want to demonstrate to the public that there is nothing to hide. There is no misuse of funds.”
Dollar, who heads the Creflo Dollar Ministries and World Changers Church International in College Park, and Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, are the two Atlanta-area mega church pastors who are part of the investigation.
Both received letters, dated November 5, from Sen. Grassley, of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance.
“We have no problem with the request,” Dollar said. “We have the same passion that the Senator has to make sure that donors can have trust in the charities here in the United States, that monies are being used properly.”
Grassley said he is investigating the finances of the pastors and their mega churches because of several complaints from the public and the news media about some of the ministers’ huge salaries, multi-million dollar mansions, Rolls Royce and Bentley automobiles and even a $23,000 toilet.
"A lot of money going down the toilet, you could say," said Sen. Grassley.
Grassley said he is trying to find out how the mega church ministers handle their money and whether they comply with federal non-profit tax laws.
11Alive's Julie Wolfe sat down with Rev. Dollar on Wednesday at his ministries' offices in College Park, and he said his finances have always been an open book for his followers to read.
"I absolutely keep nothing from my congregation. My wife gets on me sometimes saying I'm like an old refrigerator, I can't keep nothing. And they know me. They know for years they've had the opportunity to come in. The books have been open," Dollar said.
When asked how he draws the line between success and excess, Dollar said the public often does not take into account that much of what he has obtained has come from other resources -- such as book sales -- which he earned himself and which did not come from donors to the ministries.
“We can understand the fear of excess that people have,” Dollar said. “But we’ve got to make sure that we’re not assuming that, because a preacher has a nice car or he lives in a nice house, that he stole money from the church.”
Dollar said that his spending and the personal spending of other successful mega church pastors should be seen in the context of all the money that they and their congregations raise for the poor and others in need, in line with Christ’s example to love and help others.
“I have given over a hundred cars away to people. I’ve purchased over four or five homes and given them to people. We don’t share that information. I feel like I’m forced to share it right now, because there’s so much assumption in that area of excess versus success. I don’t think that excess is necessarily wrong. Just because something is excessive doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s just based on how you obtain that excess. If you didn’t obtain it in a wrong way, and you worked hard, and you did things right and legal and up-front and open, excess is not necessarily wrong.”
The airwaves on many radio stations were filled with talk about the investigation Wednesday morning.
"I'm not worried about what he's driving or what he's doing. I'm in the church because I'm listening to the message," said V-103 radio host Frank Ski, a member of Bishop Long’s church. Ski described Long as God’s messenger.
“I think that it’s just a conspiracy to try to bring these people [pastors] down,” said one caller to Ski’s program.
Another caller complained that many ministries are overly concerned with how much money they can raise.
“It’s a business now more than a service, and that’s part of the problem,” said the caller.
Some listeners expressed concern about Congress overstepping the line between church and state, while others said they understand how the minister's expensive cars and homes could draw criticism.
"If you're going to spend lavishly, you have to keep immaculate records and make sure whatever you're spending for the non-profit does not filter in with the money that you're getting for the church. And if you're gifted with the planes and the wonderful cars, make sure that none of the money that you receive from Uncle Sam is going for any of that," a listener to the Reggie Gay Gospel Show said.
Bishop Long was in Virginia and unavailable to comment, but a spokesman said Long will cooperate with Sen. Grassley.
“He plans to fully comply,” said the spokesman, Dan Rene of Impact Strategies in Washington, D.C. “New Birth [Long’s church] has several safeguards in place to insure all transactions are in compliance with laws applicable to churches.”
Sen. Grassley said Wednesday that he’s not targeting religious non-profits or any ministers. He said he has conducted dozens of investigations of secular non-profits – such as the Red Cross and the Smithsonian Institution -- and his letters to the mega church pastors are no different.
“We want to make sure that the tax exemption is not abused and we want to make sure that people, who trust the non-profits with their contributions, that that money is being used according to the non-profit purpose.”
Grassley expects the mega churches to send him the information he requested by December 6. He will then decide whether the Finance Committee needs to conduct any hearings. He said that of all the investigations of non-profits that he has conducted, the written materials they submitted to him were all he needed to scrutinize their finances, and he did not call any hearings.
Dollar said there’s nothing Sen. Grassley has requested that Dollar and his church don’t already supply to the I.R.S. every year, as well as to the church’s independent auditor every year.
“We have to pay for that audit,” Dollar said. “That’s over and above what the I.R.S. asks you to do.”
Dollar wondered what authority the Senate Finance Committee has, under the law, to do what the I.R.S. does under the law.
The other four evangelists who received financial request letters from Sen. Grassley are Paula White Ministries of Tampa, Florida; Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas; Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Missouri; and Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas.