Year: 1993

Information on religious charities scarce Watchdog groups provide some clues – Baltimore Sun

NEW YORK — New York — When you get a fund-raising appeal from a religious charity, how do you know how much money it really spends on good works? Five years after the spectacular collapse of Jim and Tammy Bakker’s religious empire, PTL, sound information on church-related groups is still hard to come by.

In half the states, religious groups are exempt from the charities registration laws that disclose at least some information about public fund-raising campaigns. Churches, synagogues, mosques and their auxiliaries are excused from filing the federal 990 forms that disclose a charity’s finances. A 990 does have to be filed by religious charities that aren’t part of churches. But even if the group will mail you a copy (many won’t), you probably won’t understand it. The same is true for a charity’s own audited financial statement.

Several private watchdog organizations interpret financial statements for you. But many church-linked groups refuse to submit to that kind of scrutiny. One example: Feed My People International, an arm of the Don Stewart Association,

church. Prospective donors get heart-rending letters on behalf of starving children, with virtually no facts about where and how the money is distributed. Three watchdog groups have asked for details and been turned down.

Don Stewart’s lawyer, J. C. Joyce of Tulsa, Okla., says, “The people who are interested in the organizations don’t want the financial information. The idiotic [groups] that want to harm the organizations want it.”

But plenty of splendid charities accept, even welcome, outside scrutiny.

Even a group OK’d by a watchdog might use controversial accounting methods.

Take Larry Jones International Ministries (Feed the Children), which raised $110 million in 1991 and met the standards set by the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Philanthropic Advisory Service.

In 1990 and 1991, Penguin Books USA gave Larry Jones 83,000 cases of damaged or otherwise unsold paperback books, which Penguin says were worth…