Over more than 20 years, the Church of Latter-day Saints has accrued approximately $100 billion in investments, tithes and other donations for its charity war chest, according to a whistleblower complaint filed to the IRS on November 21 and recently obtained by the Washington Post.
Though the religious group is allowed to hold such funds and not required to pay income tax on its holdings - per US federal law pertaining to nonprofit organizations - David A. Nielsen, the 41-year-old whistleblower and former senior portfolio manager for the Church of Latter-day Saints, claimed the church is not worthy of its tax-exempt status.
The ex-employee of Ensign Peak Advisors, the church’s investment division, noted in the complaint that the church rakes in approximately $7 billion a year, and though $6 billion of that is used to cover annual operation costs, the remaining amount is handed off to Ensign. Internal accounting documents referenced in Nielsen’s complaint noted that the Ensign portfolio has grown from $12 billion in 1997 to around $100 billion today, and the complaint alleges that none of those funds have been used to assist in educational, religious or charitable activities within those 22 years.
“If you have a charity that simply amasses a war chest year after year and does not spend any money for charity purposes, that does not meet the requirements of tax law,” University of Pittsburgh professor and former IRS official Philip Hackney told the Post, adding that the complaint presented a “legitimate concern” in regard to Ensign’s tax-exempt status.
With none of the funds being used for duties necessary to retain nonprofit status, for what purpose is all this income being stockpiled? Nielsen, citing Ensign President Roger Clark, said the funds are being hoarded for the second coming of Christ.
The whistleblower was especially critical of the church leadership’s conduct toward members who could not afford to pay their tithes, an estimated 10% of their annual income, to the group.
“Would you pay tithing instead of water, electricity, or feeding your family if you knew that it would sit around by the billions until the Second Coming of Christ?” Nielsen said in a narrative accompanying his complaint.
According to federal law in the US, religious organizations are not forced to publicly report their income or assets.
“Having seen tens of billions in contributions and scores more in investment returns come in, and having seen nothing except two unlawful distributions to for-profit concerns go out, he was dejected beyond words, and so was I,” Lars Nielsen, the whistleblower’s twin brother, said in a statement provided to the Washington Post.
While the church did not deny the details laid out in the complaint, spokesman Eric Hawkins did issue response which explained, “The Church does not provide information about specific transactions or financial decisions.”