A whistleblower reported to the IRS that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints created a $100 billion company, one of the wealthiest in the country, without anyone knowing. The tax-free funds were spent on for-profit endeavors, and, according to the report, were being saved to be “used in the event of the second coming of Christ.” FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel has written two op-eds explaining this scandal and what you need to know.
In Religion Dispatches, Seidel examines the how. How could a church create a $100-billion company without anyone knowing? Here’s a taste:
Here’s how it works according to the Post story: Mormons tithe about $7 billion to the LDS church each year. The church spends most of that money (about $6 billion). What’s left, about $1 billion, goes into the church’s investment firm, called Ensign Peak Advisors. In just over 20 years, Ensign amassed $100 billion. That’s because the company only distributed funds twice, both times to for-profit entities, while continuing to invest the funds and acquire tithes from Mormons who donate 10 percent of their income in order “to gain access to the sacred spaces and saving rituals of a Mormon temple.”
But mostly, this meteoric growth is because the IRS views Ensign as an arm of the LDS church, ostensibly run for religious purposes and, therefore, as tax-exempt. Not just tax-exempt, but exempt from all financial disclosure requirements as well. In short, we knew nothing about this shady arrangement because Congress has refused to ask.
Churches are financial and informational black holes. They file no financial information with the government. Nothing. The same is true for many church auxiliary organizations, like Ensign. Other charities, those that are not church-affiliated, file annual disclosures (a Form 990 or the like) with the IRS that track every penny in and out of the organization.
In his second piece, an op-ed that the Salt Lake Tribune, with a 100,000 circulation, published, Seidel spares a thought for the religious victims — the Mormons — and calls on all Mormons to stop tithing to the church. “The bombshell Washington Post report on the greedy, predatory nature of Mormon church’s financial dealings clarifies the need of everyday Mormons to refuse to tithe to the church anymore. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has $100 billion reserves. It doesn’t need your tithes,” writes Seidel.
But Seidel is careful to explain, “Of course, devout Mormons are not the only victims. This money was diverted from charity away from helping those in need. And every taxpayer in the state and nation paid more in taxes because this company paid none.”
He is also explicit in calling out the church, and does so in a way that puts the massive sum of money into perspective:
This insatiable lust and greed is immoral. The LDS church could refuse all tithes this year and still cover its annual operating costs without noticing the dip. It could then give $3,000 to every single Mormon on Earth — there are 15 million — and still have about $50 billion left. The church could do all of that and donate $10 million to every single one of Utah’s public schools and it would still have a $38 billion cache to bathe in like Scrooge McDuck.
FFRF has long advocated that churches should be treated equally with every other nonprofit, that they should file financial disclosures with the IRS just like everyone else. FFRF has litigated this issue in court and asked Congress to reform the tax code to ensure equality. It’s time for a change, and FFRF will continue to fight for it.