Ole Anthony, president of the Trinity Foundation, the watchdog group whose investigations into televangelism fraud helped spur the Senate Finance Committee investigation into televangelist finances, tells me this morning that he is “disappointed” with Sen. Charles Grassley’s recommendation that the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountabilty form a commission to study the issues raised by the probe.
The ECFA, said Anthony, has no “teeth” to compel the televangelists into greater accountability and transparency.
Meanwhile, he added, “the most desperate and the weakest in our society are being raped by these guys,” referring to the prosperity televangelists’ preying on viewers and congregants by convincing them that if they turn over their money, God will bless them with a supernatural return.
The Trinity Foundation originally urged the Committee to examine two issues, said Anthony: conversion and inurement. Conversion is the use of tax-exempt donor funds by a for-profit organization led by the principals of a non-profit and inurement is excessive compensation of those principals.
Somehow, though, said Anthony, the issues became embroiled in church-state separation concerns, which have no bearing on whether these televangelism ministries are abusing their tax-exempt status for their own personal profit.
As I reported earlier, Grassley’s staff memo makes clear that his staff was pressured by religious right organizations that muddied the water with these church-state concerns, which are shared by the organization Grassley has asked to address the issues, the ECFA.