The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has denied any wrongdoing in response to a whistleblower complaint alleging that the Church had potentially violated federal tax laws by stockpiling $100 billion in tithing donations instead of using them for charitable works.
A press release issued by the Church’s First Presidency on Tuesday stated that these claims are “based on a narrow perspective and limited information.”
“The Church complies with all applicable law governing our donations, investments, taxes, and reserves,” states the press release.
The complaint was made to the IRS on Nov. 21 by David A. Nielsen, a former senior portfolio manager for Ensign Peak Advisors, the church’s investment division, and his brother, Lars P. Nielsen, who provided the documents in the complaint to The Washington Post.
According to The Post, David Nielsen alleges that Ensign has not met the condition of funding religious, educational or charitable activities, which provides the organization with a tax exemption, in 22 years. Nielsen said means the Church could owe billions in taxes. He said Ensign has used tithing money for commercial investments, including the City Creek Center shopping mall in downtown Salt Lake City, something the Church has denied in the past.
The Post also stated that David Nielsen, who has left the Church, “is seeking a reward from the IRS, which offers whistleblowers a cut of unpaid taxes that it recovers.”
David Nielsen and Lars Nielsen were not able to be reached for comment.
The complaint states that Ensign’s president, Roger Clarke, has told others that the amassed funds would be used in the event of the second coming of Christ, according to The Post.
The Church press release stated that although the “vast majority” of tithes and donations are used for immediate needs, including meetinghouses, temples, education, humanitarian work and missionary work, “a portion is methodically safeguarded through wise financial management and the building of a prudent reserve for the future.”
“This is a sound doctrinal and financial principle taught by the Savior in the Parable of the Talents and lived by the Church and its members,” states the press release.
David Nielsen, however, sees the Church’s accumulation of savings in a far more critical light.
“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?” said Nielsen, according to The Post.
Robert W. McGee, an accounting professor at Fayetteville State University and a former tax attorney who completed a survey in 2011 about opinions among members of the Church regarding tax evasion, said the vast majority of members would likely be “outraged and embarrassed” based on what he found in his survey if the Church is proven to have evaded paying taxes.
He added that there would also be strong resistance among members towards any attempt to take away the church’s tax-exempt status.
However, he doesn’t believe this is a likely outcome for two reasons: First, the Church could simply pay the taxes and penalties without further action against it. Second, taking away the tax-exempt status of the church could be “a slippery slope that could lead to revoking the tax-exempt status of every other church in America, which would never happen,” McGee said.
“The various Christian and non-Christian churches in this country would be calling members of Congress until their phones melted,” he said.