Last week, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was asked how he’d respond to the Mormon Church’s alleged hoarding of $100 billion meant for charity. A Washington Post story spurred by a whistleblower’s report suggested that the LDS Church was holding on to all that cash. One of the reasons they’ve been able to get away with that, if it’s indeed true, is because churches don’t have to be transparent about how much money they take in and where it goes out.
Other non-profits have to be transparent in order to keep their tax exempt statuses. But not churches. For no good reason, our government allows them to hide their cash flow. We shouldn’t be surprised to discover, then, that a large church may be scamming its members while continuing to ask for tithe money.
But when the question was posed to him, Buttigieg sidestepped it. He insisted churches were different from other charities and that he wouldn’t change the rules they currently play by. It was the safe answer. But it was a cowardly one.
Yesterday, an Iowan named Ryan Thornton asked a similar question to Bernie Sanders. You can see the exchange at the 1:12:55 mark.
Sanders also didn’t seem to understand the question, but went slightly further in saying all groups, non-profit or otherwise, should be held accountable for their actions.
THORNTON: Bernie, I am one of many independent and non-religious voters that support you. You’re running on a campaign of getting big money out of power. Big for-profit corporations are not the only ones hoarding billions of dollars in money. Last month, it was revealed through a insider whistleblower that the Church of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church, was hoarding over one billion dollars in tithe money that’s supposed to be for charity. [Note: It’s over one hundred billion.] Now, Pete Buttigieg was asked about whether a non-profit — a religious non-profit — is exempt from rules that other non-profit charities are bound to. What are your thoughts?
SANDERS: Well, I don’t know what he said, but I don’t think anybody’s exempt if you break the law. You know, I believe, absolutely, in the fundamentals of American society where we have freedom of religion. You want to join a religion… go to the church you want, synagogue you want, that’s your business. But, you know, we have all seen what has happened over the last many decades in terms of the Catholic Church and the terrible abuse — sexual abuse — so I don’t think anyone’s exempt from law enforcement.
I will say right up front that I don’t think Sanders understood the issue at hand. So what I’m about to say is based on what he said, not on what he would have said given a better grasp of the subject.
It was a non-response. Of course everyone should follow the law. The problem with the Mormon Church hoarding is that they are following the law. The law allows the Church to hoard money and not tell anybody what they’re doing with that cash. The law needs to change to require all non-profits — churches included — to tell us how much they’re taking in, from whom, and where it’s all going. Basically, we need the IRS to make churches play by the same rules as other charities. There’s no pressure on the IRS to make that change — and churches are naturally opposed to it.
What would Bernie Sanders say if he knew that? I don’t know. I want a candidate who will say churches shouldn’t be exempt from accountability. I would think Sanders would be on board with that… but he hasn’t said it yet.
That said, I appreciate that Iowans are asking candidates these questions. Get them on the record now. If people ask these questions often enough, the candidates won’t be able to play dumb on the issue forever.
(Thanks to Justin for the link)