Annually I receive a letter from the IRS concerning the previous year’s filing. These letters and mini-audits precipitate anxiety, additional work by my CPA, and a modest fee. This year was an exception, though. The letter came, but I greeted it with acceptance instead of anxiety. Over the years, I have discovered the IRS to be reasonable in regard to my personal finances. I recognized, too, that this organization for accountability is unpopular, even though it provides an indispensable service.
The IRS reaches out with its policy of accountability to individuals, businesses, organizations and even places of worship. In the case of the latter, I read about their interest with the Kenneth Copeland Ministries of television fame. The IRA has initiated an investigation of their alleged abuse of tax exemption.
The Kenneth Copeland Ministries is in a controversy with the IRS over the use of $3.6 million jet they own. The Copeland organization is being denied tax-exempt status for this jet.
The application to receive the exemption requires groups to submit a list of salaries, and Kenneth Copeland failed to disclose the compensation of the Director, said Jeffrey D. Law, Tarrant County’s chief appraiser.
Televangelists have come under fire recently for lavish lifestyles, and the Copeland ministry also failed to provide spending data after U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)asked Copeland and other ministers to provide financial information as part of an inquiry into their finances.
The ministry said last year that it owned five aircraft including one valued at $17.5 million. Copeland’s organization, also known as Eagle Mountain International Church, admitted to allowing personal use of the aircraft 10% of the time, though it claims individuals are charged for this use.
After that initial investigation, the church said it would cooperate with the IRS should that agency undertake a church tax inquiry.
As I read the inventory of jets in their fleet, I asked myself “How many aircraft do they need and where is the money coming from for their purchase and maintenance? Of course we know, the support is coming from individual donors. This situation raises caution flags; like the IRS, we too can demand accountability from such religious bodies. Also, as I reviewed my list of donations, I could say none of my offerings have supported a fleet of jets.
Accountability is a tool for measuring the honesty of any organization, Such religious organizations have end-of-year statements or worth available to their contributors. Generosity is a virtue and a value — by all means, even in a year of poor economy, continue to donate. Do follow the advice of President Reagan: “Trust but verify.” Even religious ministries are accountable, as are individuals, to the IRS. It’s proper to examine how your gifts are being used, even by faith groups.
The mission of the IRS, as I understand it, isn’t to harass but to hold us accountable. The Copeland Ministries isn’t being singled out for harassment because it is a religious organization. Its faulty bookkeeping and thinking and lack of cooperation with the law has earned the battle with the IRS. As I understand the situation, they ran the risk of non-compliance and are now reaping the results.