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James huntsman (jon's brother) sues church for 'fraud'


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13 hours ago, smac97 said:

I don't think it is.  And I don't think a federal judge would, either.

Absent specific provisions, a charitable donation to a religious group is just that: a donation.  Once given, the donor has essentially no say in how it is spent.  Fraud would be an exception to this.  But Huntsman's claim of fraud is untenable. It is facially dubious, and becomes absurd when the complexities of the Church's accounting and finances are taken into account.  No judge is going to penalize a religious organization for using freely-given donations for legitimate purposes associated with that organization.  And yes, saving and investing money is both legal and legitimate.  It is possible that a judge would be more inclined toward a finding of fraud if the organization's inducements were patently fraudulent (not the case here, not even close), or if the subsequent uses o fthe donations were patently improper, wasteful, etc.  Hence my repeated references to the Brethren not enriching themselves, to nobody getting rich from the Church's funds, to no allegations that the Church is being wasteful, etc.

I wasn't referring to you.  I was thinking of how the federal judge will be looking at this case.

Legally speaking, it would be the first problem.

There is no evidence of fraudulent inducements.

Huntsman's lawsuit is not about "Problem B."  It's about fraud.

Huntsman's lawsujit is not about whether the EPA's investments "could be viewed as miserly."  It's about fraud. 

Huntsman's lawsuit is not about "the necessity of a ... rainy day fund."  It's about fraud.

Thanks,

-Smac

I didn't realize we were making official legal arguments to the court for the fraud case. What you say makes a lot more sense in that context now that you fill the gaps in your original statements. 

So am I understanding your correctly that the only legal definition of fraud in a case like this could be met if the brethren were enriching themselves and/or engaged in wasteful spending?  I suppose the issue would then center on the definition of "wasteful". Or in other words, IF a charitable organization said, "donate to us and we will do X,Y,Z" and upon review it is learned that yes, they use 6% of their donations on XYZ and the other 94% was used for Q, R, S, that would be perfectly acceptable?

 

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14 hours ago, JAHS said:

In the earlier days of the Church the Bishops and Stake presidents were also paid.

If I remember correctly they were paid a percentage of collected tithes and offerings.

It's not hard to see how the payment of tithing developed into a litmus test of righteousness.

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15 hours ago, Stormin' Mormon said:

The way I understand it, the Millennium will only be an upgrade from our current Telestial world to a more righteous Terrestrial world.  We shouldn't expect a world living a Celestial law until after the Millennium. 

That's an interesting perspective. I would think the argument would be more that we shouldn't expect a Terrestrial world to live a telestial law.

Also, is the United Order really celestial law, or are you conflating that with the Law of Consecration?

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21 hours ago, smac97 said:

Oh, here we go again with the endlessly malleable demand for "transparency."  Always demanded, but never defined.

We actually have quite a bit of information about how the Church spends its money.

Transparency is easy to define. Publish an annual report with financial statements, footnores and a laymens explanation on source and use of funds. Many church's do this already.  By the way can you point me to where I can find the "quite a bit of information" On how the church spends its money?  No genereal tings like building maintenance, missions, ward budgets, etc.  Actual data and $$ of what it takes in, from what sources and where it goes.

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21 hours ago, Danzo said:

Although many organizations cheat and us a simple p&L and balance sheat (especially the small ones)  because they don't really know what they are doing, it really isn't appropriate for a non profit to use the P&L format for their financials.  The 990 is really not built around a P&L format.  You really have to manipulate the books to make it fit.

How may audited financial statements for NFPs have you looked at.  I can assure you they use P&Ls.  They are different than a for profit but they still use one.

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14 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Which is why one must question his personal integrity in this matter.  A frivolous lawsuit is a sign of hate and vengeance-seeking.

I'm not willing to concede that it is frivolous, nor that it is driven by hate or vengeance-seeking. Even if the Church's practices of hoarding and secretiveness are legal, this lawsuit is drawing much needed attention to the issue.  

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An LDS member might respond that the LDS Church is managed the way the Lord wants, and for the Lord's purposes, not subject to second-guessing by infidels.  Watchdogs and advisors may of course say anything at all, and set whatever standards they desire.  The First Amendment protects those claims just fine.

Likewise, an LDS member might respond by being very distraught, asking for his money back so that he can redirect it towards other organizations that use most of their money for charitable purposes, and even might sue.

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By dint of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, question #1 is illegitimate:  A religion may not be taxed. 

That is preposterous from numerous angles. If freedom of religion means religion cannot be taxed, then why doesn't freedom of the press mean bookstores can't be taxed? Giving organizations tax breaks is a form of subsidization. Even if Congress grants that "religion" can't be taxed, how is it Constitutional for religion to be subsidized by the U.S. government this way? And do we really want the government to be in the business of deciding what constitutes "real" religion that is deserving of these tax breaks and what is "fake" religion that does not?

Those philosophical issues aside, the IRS publishes a 36-page book entitled, Tax Guide for Churches & Religious Organizations. If the entire matter is simplistically settled with the declaration "religion may not be taxed," then why is such a long book needed? And why does it say the following in the very first paragraph? 

"Certain income of a church or religious organization may be subject to tax, such as income from an unrelated business."  Publication 1828 (Rev. 8-2015) Catalog Number 21096G Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service www.irs.gov, page 2.

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Questions 2 & 3 are likewise illegitimate (at least in the USA), unless one can show a substantive violation of fraud statutes.

In the USA, there is no such thing as an "illegitimate question." The answer to the question might be that American law grants churches the right to act as for-profit businesses on a tax-free basis and to be deceptive to their members. Those might be the answers. But the questions are still legitimate. And if it turns out a church is abusing the legal rights it was granted, we the people have the right to talk about the issue and change the law. 

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12 hours ago, MiserereNobis said:

Hey, I think SLC should become its own country like the Vatican and then President Nelson could be an absolute monarch. I mean, if you want to be like the Pope, go all the way!

No half measures! 

 

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31 minutes ago, Teancum said:

Transparency is easy to define.

Right.

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Publish an annual report with financial statements, footnores and a laymens explanation on source and use of funds.

Ah.  So let's take a look at the Church's financial summary for 1926:

GH0plFvr55eUoiG4AcAjtOQM8Z0uqlBJITWUlGOn

Are you saying that this would be sufficient for critics?

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Many church's do this already.  By the way can you point me to where I can find the "quite a bit of information" On how the church spends its money? 

You could start with D. Michael Quinn's book.  Plenty of threads on this board discuss news items regarding "how the church spends its money."  The Trib reported just two days ago that

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Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, the ecclesiastical leader who oversees the denomination’s vast financial, real estate, investment and charitable operations, noted a year ago that humanitarian expenditures have doubled in the past five years and that the church now provides nearly $1 billion annually in humanitarian and welfare aid. Latter-day Saint leaders say the church has provided record amounts of relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But let's get real.  No disclosure of any sort will ever satisfy most critics, 'cuz they aren't trying to find information, they are trying to find fault.  

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No genereal tings like building maintenance, missions, ward budgets, etc.  Actual data and $$ of what it takes in, from what sources and where it goes.

"Actual data and $$?"  This is you defining "transparency?"

Here is a blog article that may provide some clarification by my critique of critics' calls for "transparency" (which never actually gets defined in any meaningful way - much as you do here) :

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Financial Statements are a snapshot into the financial health of a business or organization, designed to allow stakeholders (i.e. a person who has a stake in a business. Not like “Stake Boundary” stake, more like “interest” stake) to determine, on a macro level, the well being of the company.

...

Keep in mind that financial statements are at a painfully high level. Ask any auditor and they’ll tell you the same thing until they’re blue in the face. It doesn’t tell most of the transactions. It’s not a blueprint on how to run a company. It’s not designed to detect fraud. Although our accounting overlords continually add new rules to try to prevent the next Enron or WorldCom, neither a thorough, expensive audit nor the resulting financial statements are a guarantee to that.

...

Okay, so you now know, or can at least pretend to know, what a financial statement is. Here’s where I’m having problems: what would publicly releasing the LDS Church’s financial statements accomplish?

Before you answer that, want to see what you’ll be getting? I found the financial statements for the Episcopal Church, which happened to be put together by my former employer. Go ahead, read through the 2013 report.

So what did you learn? I learned that the Episcopal Church is financially sound right now. And…that’s about it.

How much do they donate to the poor? How much to give in foreign relief? How much do they use on buildings? I have absolutely no idea. The best we get is this scant breakout here:

http://timjgordon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/episcopal_breakout.png

What do they consider to be “Canonical and missional programs”? Is “General convention” a euphemism for the priests heading to ComiCon on the church’s dime? And what’s with this “other” amount grouped in with Grants?

In other words, we’re almost exactly where we started. We know how much money they brought in and how much money went out, but they grouped their expenses based on arbitrary categorizations invented by whichever accountant implemented Quickbooks for them.

Unfortunately, their grouping totally fails for me, because those Episcopal financials don’t allow me to voyeuristicly understand how they use their money. Heck, it doesn’t even tell me how much they spent on Communion Crackers!

For them, though, it works. Their goal was likely to prove that they are spending less than they make, and on that point, mission accomplished.

If we were to get public financial statements for the LDS Church, this is about as good as we could expect. Want proof? Turns out the LDS Church has financial statements in the UK (required by UK law). And considering that I haven’t heard a single person mention how great it is that the Church practices financial transparency overseas, I’m guessing the number of people demanding US financial statements that know about the UK financials are in the single digits.

Hence my suspicion that calls for further "Financial Transparency" would be followed, endlessly, by more calls for "Financial Transparency."  Because the objective of the critics is digging for dirt, that's about it.

More from the blog:

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Okay, so you’re not an accountant, and you’re not interested in stuffy financial statements made up by overweight accountants with little green visors and even smaller personalities. You just want more transparency.

But why?

What are you going to do with that information? Do you honestly believe that knowing how much the LDS Church depreciates the Salt Lake City Temple renovations every year will convince you that what goes on inside is sacred? Will seeing how much the LDS Church sends to Africa in financial aide have one bit of bearing on whether Joseph Smith talked with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in the Sacred Grove? Does the amount spent on basketballs each year have any relevance on whether or not the Book of Mormon is true?

Look, I really don’t mean to come across as harsh, I just fail to see how financial ledgers, no matter how detailed or how summarized, matter. Either the Church is true, or it’s not. I believe that it is. Yes, it’s absolutely run by imperfect people, and they will make financial mistakes. But like Tomas at the beginning of this post so wisely told me, if they screw up, it’s on them.

I think these are fair questions for you.  What do you propose to do with the further-disclosed information about the Church's finances?

And more (emphasis added):

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The thing is, I get what many people are trying to say. It’s easy to look around the world and see all the suffering, then look at the (non-released) financial situation of the LDS Church and think, “surely we can do better.”

Whether we can or can’t, I really don’t know. As individual members of the Church and followers of Jesus Christ, especially ones living in the wealthiest country in the world (or wherever you are on that list if you’re not in the the US), absolutely. I throw myself into that bucket for sure. All of us can get a little caught up in what should be considered a “want” and what should be considered a “need,” forgetting that the amount we spend on those alleged needs could be better served helping those with real needs.

But can the actual organization, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better allocate it’s resources to give more to the poor?

The LDS Church recently included “caring for the poor” among their missions, bringing the total missions to four. I don’t think I’m breaking new ground by saying that this new mission takes money. What about the other three? Proclaiming the Gospel, Perfecting the Saints, Redeeming the Dead? All of them take money, too.

Could we ask missionaries to pay a bit more to cover the expenses related to the mission? Maybe, but for many what’s being asked is already a huge burden.

Could we worship in buildings that aren’t quite as nice? Perhaps, but most of the newer buildings are pretty utilitarian, even reusing the same architecture plans to save on costs.

Could we make our temples look a little less nice? On this one, I think not. The new, smaller temples already have several changes to help cut back on expenses, but we can only go so far.

...

So, what, then, would transparent financial statements be used for? I suspect the only use would be for people with 1/1000ths of the information as those making financial decisions to loudly proclaim that the LDS Church isn’t making the right decisions. Kind of like Monday Morning Quarterbacking after watching about 3 plays of the game.

Yep.  I think that's the endgame intended by critics demanding for more "transparency."

So perhaps you can understand my skepticism and resistance to such obviously agenda-driven demands (particularly from critics, who are notably not contributing to the Church)

And one more bit:

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I don’t believe the LDS Church is hiding some great financial secret: there’s too many accountants at the LDS Church, including some who have turned against the Church, for unethical dealings to not have been leaked by now. Enron had a much shorter life than the LDS Church, and it was dismantled by someone on the inside, not someone reading financial statements. Considering that Enron was stocked full of self interested employees, not people who grew up believing that their organization should be held to a higher standard than everything else, serious Church financial wrong doing would have come out by now.

At best, if we had transparency, you’d get a small group of people complaining that the LDS Church is wrong because it does their finances differently than they would do it, while everyone else would get bored before scrolling to the end of the released PDF.

Going back to the cost, that sounds like a pretty low benefit to justify virtually any expense.

If the LDS Church does one day release their finances, so be it. In the meantime, there are much better causes to dedicate our time to. May I suggest helping the poor instead of complaining that the Church isn’t helping them enough?

Well said.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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14 minutes ago, smac97 said:

No.  The most clear form of fraud would be if the Church had made fraudulent statements.

Probably not fraudulent.  Fraud is a tough row to hoe.  See here (from the Salt Lake Tribune, the only news outlet I have seen so far that actually went out and got a legal expert to look at the complaint) :

That's pretty much what I thought, too.  I don't think the federal judge will be happy with this complaint, and I think the attorney will look back on this and be a bit embarrassed.

More from the Trib article:

And yet, for critics, it's...

LoneScrawnyJumpingbean-max-1mb.gif

;) 

Thanks,

-Smac

First- that is a great song!

Second- regarding use of the $100 Billion for events like credit crunches, recessions etc. Would you agree that this past year of pandemic and recession would meet that qualification for use of the $100 billion?  Any idea how much, if any the church has used during this time of crisis?

Third- Regarding fraudulent statements, wouldn't this circle back to claims that funds would be used for XYZ when in fact only a small portion of funds are used for the stated purpose? If that's the case then Huntsman's lawyers would have to prove that the church made claims about XYZ and then also prove how they didn't live up to that claim, right?

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52 minutes ago, HappyJackWagon said:

So am I understanding your correctly that the only legal definition of fraud in a case like this could be met if the brethren were enriching themselves and/or engaged in wasteful spending?

The non-issue of the brethren not personally enriching themselves is a red herring. As Mitt Romney so pithily said, “Corporations are people, my friends.” The person who is enriching itself is the corporation itself.

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21 hours ago, bluebell said:

I've seen people who disagree with the church's perspective on what constitutes using tithing to fulfill "the missions of the church and the covenants of helping others" accuse the church of being immoral with it's money based solely on that disagreement of perspective.  That's what I meant by that part.

When I think about it that way, I think I can see that, too. Essentiallythe argument for a rainy day fund is that, financially, the Lord's church needs to be preserved first and foremost. Yet the church is supposed to be a benefit not to just itself but all people. So, there must be a delineating line somewhere, where the means used to prevent, protect, and preserve are excessive and the cost of lost opportunities are immoral. There is a line somewhere, right? 

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13 hours ago, MiserereNobis said:

Hey, I think SLC should become its own country like the Vatican and then President Nelson could be an absolute monarch. I mean, if you want to be like the Pope, go all the way!

So far President Nelson hasn't had to impose a pay cut for all the bishops, stake presidents, EQP, RS presidents, and other leaders.  They are still earning their full salary!  So maybe the LDS church is managing their money better than the Vatican.

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21 hours ago, Danzo said:

The reporting requirements should be set by the needs of the organization.  These financial statements are then manipulated for reporting to various outside parties (government). It should never be the reverse.

After as has been stated in many a tax court case GAAP is not an acceptable method of accounting for tax.    That doesn't mean GAAP should not be used, it just means the GAAP reports need to be manipulated for tax purposes.  Even GAAP is often a manipulation of accounting systems that are non GAAP but much more useful to the organization's internal needs.

 

GAAP is the staring point for determining taxable income.  Then, based on various tax law, book to tax adjustments are made.  Some of the adjustments have basis in reasonable differences such as deduction for reserves for say future costs on service warranties a company may be obliged to make, or a reserve for a legal settlement yet to be determined.  Tax law does not allow a deduction until such items are paid. Other adjustments are just because tax law says so.  Like penalties or  entertainment costs both of which are limited under tax law just because the law was passed that says so. I do not know of anytime tax courts had said GAAP in general is not acceptable for tax purposes.

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59 minutes ago, Teancum said:

Transparency is easy to define. Publish an annual report with financial statements, footnores and a laymens explanation on source and use of funds. Many church's do this already.

Could you point me to a church that does that?  I just checked Seventh Day Adventist and Southern Baptist and their financial statements don't have "layman's explanations" and the categories are extremely vague and high-level.

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33 minutes ago, smac97 said:

So perhaps you can understand my skepticism and resistance to such obviously agenda-driven demands (particularly from critics, who are notably not contributing to the Church)

You are using boilerplate arguments here and are forgetting the context of this thread. James Huntsman has probably donated more money to the Church than you will earn in your lifetime. He, a major donor, thinks the Church was being misleading to him about how the Church was using its financial resources.

Most critics say something to this effect: Here are the widely recognized best-practices for financial transparency for a charity or a church. Like all other charities and churches that solicit funds from the public and/or receive subsidization from the government in the form of tax breaks, the Mormon Church should endeavor to meet those best practices.

Rather than recognizing that there are in fact best practices for such things and addressing the issue of whether or not your church ought to meet those standards, you respond with the baseless red herring, "Why bother? The critics will never be satisfied!"

Regardless of whether "the critics would ever be satisfied," what we do know is that if the Church would have been meeting these standards in the past, James Huntsman would have been able to make an informed decision about whether or not he wanted to contribute to the Church.

Edited by Analytics
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21 hours ago, smac97 said:

But he doesn't have a right to file a frivolous lawsuit about it. 

The lawsuit most decidedly is "about the $$."  He's suing the Church.  He wants his money back.

Thanks,

-Smac

Well I guess a court will decide if it is frivolous or not.

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14 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

By dint of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, question #1 is illegitimate:  A religion may not be taxed.  At least not in the USA.  Perhaps you have some other country in mind.

Questions 2 & 3 are likewise illegitimate (at least in the USA), unless one can show a substantive violation of fraud statutes.  I assume you understand the rule of law.  The law, not emotion, governs our society.  Moreover, religious organizations are to be strictly differentiated from secular non-profit charitable organizations: Each state regulates such non-profits in its own way, but has very limited control of religious organizations.  You may want to consult a lawyer.

This is incorrect. The US Tax code has exemptions for churches and other organizations. Specifically excluding churches from taxation was challenged and the Supreme Court ruled that such an exemption is allowable.

So you are correct that it is not taxed now but the Supreme Court has not ruled that such an exemption is mandatory or required by the Constitution. If Congress were to revise the tax code they could tax churches (and various other non-profits).

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5 minutes ago, webbles said:

Could you point me to a church that does that?  I just checked Seventh Day Adventist and Southern Baptist and their financial statements don't have "layman's explanations" and the categories are extremely vague and high-level.

The Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability (ECFA) has thousands of accredited member organizations which all comply with this. You can look up the members here: ECFA. These churches all agree to the following:

"Every organization shall provide a copy of its current financial statements upon written request and shall provide other disclosures as the law may require. The financial statements required to comply with Standard 3 must be disclosed under this standard.

An organization must provide a report, upon written request, including financial information on any specific project for which it sought or is seeking gifts."

They also explain why they require this of themselves. A pertinent reason is the following: "Public disclosure protects Christian ministry from the danger of claiming ownership of God’s gifts. It also protects us from the temptation to acquire assets as our lasting goal."

See here: ECFA Standard 5 - Transparency

For example, here is a link to the consolidated financial statements of the  Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Microsoft Word - {F6B9E0B0-36F5-4859-8333-7186912CC09D} (billygraham.org)

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39 minutes ago, Meadowchik said:

When I think about it that way, I think I can see that, too. Essentiallythe argument for a rainy day fund is that, financially, the Lord's church needs to be preserved first and foremost. Yet the church is supposed to be a benefit not to just itself but all people. So, there must be a delineating line somewhere, where the means used to prevent, protect, and preserve are excessive and the cost of lost opportunities are immoral. There is a line somewhere, right? 

I'm not sure what you're driving at by questioning where 'the line' might be? You mean an objectively determined line? Who would make that decision other than the general leadership of the Church in consultation with 'you know Who'? Almost by definition, one man's objective line is another's vague subjectivity...

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21 minutes ago, Analytics said:
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So perhaps you can understand my skepticism and resistance to such obviously agenda-driven demands (particularly from critics, who are notably not contributing to the Church)

You are using boilerplate arguments here and are forgetting the context of this thread.

Yes, well, when you know the answer, it's hard not to hit the buzzer.

It's not like this is a new topic.

21 minutes ago, Analytics said:

James Huntsman has probably donated more money to the Church than you will earn in your lifetime. He, a major donor, thinks the Church was being misleading to him about how the Church was using its financial resources.

No, that's not the context.  How much money he has donated has no legal relevance.

21 minutes ago, Analytics said:

Most critics say something to this effect: Here are the widely recognized best-practices for financial transparency for a charity or a church. Like all other charities and churches that solicit funds from the public and/or receive subsidization from the government in the form of tax breaks, the Mormon Church should endeavor to meet those best practices.

No, they don't say that.  You say that, and more power to you.

Most critics, however, refuse to define "accountability" and "transparency" and such in any meaningful way, with the obvious exception of "more than what the Church is doing now" (which is an evergreen favorite).

21 minutes ago, Analytics said:

Rather than recognizing that there are in fact best practices for such things and addressing the issue of whether or not your church ought to meet those standards, you respond with the baseless red herring, "Why bother? The critics will never be satisfied!"

I do recognize what you have posted.

21 minutes ago, Analytics said:

Regardless of whether "the critics would ever be satisfied," what we do know is that if the Church would have been meeting these standards in the past, James Huntsman would have been able to make an informed decision about whether or not he wanted to contribute to the Church.

I'm not sure we know that at all.  

I'm also not sure that James Huntsman didn't make an informed decision in the first instance.

Thanks,

-Smac

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Could the LDS church be sued for this same reason but in a different jurisdiction (country) that has fewer legal  protections for religious organizations? I'm wondering how this would work out on the international scene.

My diocese publishes the yearly audit report on its website. The most recent one is here.

Does this report contain satisfactory information to be deemed transparent?

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Here is an article that articulates my position on why Ensign Peak Advisors ought to be taxed. It does so in a less heated way because it targets non-church institutions that hoard money and talks about the financial subsidies that they received through their favorable tax treatment.

Harvard, Yale, Stanford endowments: Is it time to tax them? (slate.com)

Since that was written, a Republican-led tax bill agreed with the point and became law. Now excessive college endowments are taxed, despite them ostentatiously being for non-profit educational purposes.

Here is an article about how they are now taxed.

 What is the tax treatment of college and university endowments? | Tax Policy Center

 

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46 minutes ago, gopher said:

So far President Nelson hasn't had to impose a pay cut for all the bishops, stake presidents, EQP, RS presidents, and other leaders.  They are still earning their full salary!  So maybe the LDS church is managing their money better than the Vatican.

Ha, nice one!

Just to clarify, the pay cut only applies to those at the Vatican. My diocese hasn't had any pay cuts (but we also got money from the PPP, so that probably helped).

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3 minutes ago, Vanguard said:

I'm not sure what you're driving at by questioning where 'the line' might be? You mean an objectively determined line? Who would make that decision other than the general leadership of the Church in consultation with 'you know Who'? Almost by definition, one man's objective line is another's vague subjectivity...

You may be right about that. An objective line would ultimately be subjective and the decision would be made by those in charge, unless they employed a crazy idea like Common Consent.

But there currently is NO line at all. What if the church amassed $1 Trillion, or $10 T, or $50T. When is it enough? Leadership could set a line for themselves by saying something like, "Liquid assets shall not exceed $50 billion $$" or "Liquid assets will not exceed 5 times the church's annual budget" or something similar. There doesn't appear to be any line drawn so right now the sky is the limit and it leaves me wondering about the missed opportunities of blessing peoples lives as the continue to focus on building massive wealth. 

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