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60 Minutes Australia: "Cooking the Book of Mormon"


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19 hours ago, bluebell said:

Do they have any expertise in tax laws in Australia or anything like that? 

Neville Rochow apparently does.  He is a barrister (in fact, he may have even helped the Church set up the charitable trust).

Simon Southerton is a plant geneticist.  A smart guy, to be sure, but not really situated to speak intelligently on the intricacies of Australian tax law.

19 hours ago, bluebell said:

I'm wondering what the purpose is of interviewing two people who will be critical of the church no matter what the topic is?  What do their opinions add to the subject?

Grist for the mill, I suppose.

19 hours ago, bluebell said:

It seems like the equivalent of going out and interviewing California republicans about Nancy Pelosi.  

Yep.  The story does not seem particularly newsworthy.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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3 hours ago, Hamba Tuhan said:

because the Australian Tax Office had determined that 75 per cent of what the Church did with Australian tithing qualified.

Does someone have a link to this documentation? Like how it was structured. There are no government records that I can find prior to the change in 2015. I understand the 75% as attested to by an Australian member in this board. What I am looking for is the regulatory basis. As far as I can tell now, an organization is on the DGR list or not. There is no “75%” on the list. 

Edited by SeekingUnderstanding
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6 hours ago, Thinking said:
Quote

Oh.  It's legal.  So the point of the article is . . . what?

Is legal all that matters?

As to regulated behaviors that are malum prohibitum and not malum in se?

Yep, pretty much.

6 hours ago, Thinking said:

There are plenty of things that are legal that the Church doesn't participate in.

True.  But nothing the Church did here is out of harmony with either the law or the Church's doctrine or preferences.

Thanks,

-Smac

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1 hour ago, SeekingUnderstanding said:

Does someone have a link to this documentation?

No. My understanding is that the Church was notified by the ATO at some point (before that tithing was 100 per cent deductible), and local leaders shared the information with members. It may also have been on official EOFY donation statements. I'm happy to be corrected on these points.

In case it's useful, this is one of the Church's submissions to government addressing some of these issues, including the problem of complexity.

Edited by Hamba Tuhan
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44 minutes ago, Hamba Tuhan said:

No. My understanding is that the Church was notified by the ATO at some point (before that tithing was 100 per cent deductible), and local leaders shared the information with members. It may also have been on official EOFY donation statements. I'm happy to be corrected on these points.

In case it's useful, this is one of the Church's submissions to government addressing some of these issues, including the problem of complexity.

Thank you.

With that paper, I was able to find the working group request for comment (to which your link is a response) and final report. Still looking through them:

https://treasury.gov.au/sites/default/files/2019-03/TCWG_Discussion_Paper.pdf - Includes a brief history of DGR laws and Income Tax exceptions in Australia as well.

https://treasury.gov.au/sites/default/files/2019-03/NFP-Sector-WG-Final-Report.pdf

Edited by SeekingUnderstanding
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10 minutes ago, SeekingUnderstanding said:

Thank you.

With that paper, I was able to find the working group request for comment (to which your link is a response) and final report. Still looking through them:

https://treasury.gov.au/sites/default/files/2019-03/TCWG_Discussion_Paper.pdf

https://treasury.gov.au/sites/default/files/2019-03/NFP-Sector-WG-Final-Report.pdf

Thank you for doing this.  While I found enough generic conversations discussing the 75% to  sufficiently confirm for myself prior to Justa stating their tax declaration/receipt had it printed on it (I was debating asking if he had a copy he could share with us, but too much work to hide the personal info imo), which info was enough documentation for me though I know not everyone would feel that way, I have still been trying to find an explicit government statement.

I was hoping to find income tax sheets online, but didn’t.  Didn’t spend much time on it though as Justa shared the receipt info.

Edited by Calm
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Collecting documents…

shows tax deductible status or not

https://abn.business.gov.au/ABN/View?abn=25960023413

info on charities 

https://abn.business.gov.au/Help/CharitableTaxConcession

I am kind of laughing about this…what do you think would happen if as part of the church’s website, there wasn’t just some videos about making gifts to the Church (I have only seen one and iirc that was removed, don’t know if there are more, but am assuming), but examples of what to put in your will you can download like these? (I don’t personally see an issue with it, it just never occurred to me that this happened).

https://victas.uca.org.au/download/152/trusts-bequests/2023/gift-agreement-template-victoria-multiple-donors-2

For clarity in case this wasn’t obvious…

Churches do still have to be register with and be approved by the ATO for donations to be deductible, but churches are one of the categories for eligible organizations.  I assume that is the same for the US?  You can’t just set up a tent on a street corner calling yourself a church and anyone who donates to you can claim they are donating to a church/charity.  
 

And you need a tax receipt for anything $10 and over.  
 

Btw, you lodge income tax forms in Australia…if that helps any in looking stuff up…at least I think that is how you use “lodge” in relation to taxes.

https://www.littlephil.org/blog/how-to-claim-tax-deductible-donations

Edited by Calm
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7 hours ago, SeekingUnderstanding said:

Thank you.

This may address your question about partial tax exemption:

Quote

Applying for endorsement as a part DGR (for a fund, authority or institution)

This is when only a certain part of the organisation may fit into a DGR category.

Example

ER School operates a building fund and a public library. While a school itself may not fit into a DGR category, school building funds and public libraries have DGR categories. ER School can apply for a part DGR endorsement for both its building fund and its library.

 

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15 hours ago, Calm said:

“I was taught that tithing was used to build up the Kingdom of God. It's great that Australian tithing goes towards alleviating sickness and poverty, but I'm wondering if Australian Saints are missing out on blessings by not contributing to building up the Kingdom of God.”

Why would you think that helping those in need is not part of building the Kingdom of God?

Because outside of Australia, it spends one or two billion dollars a year to build up the wealth of Ensign Peak Advisors, while only spending perhaps 25 million on charity. That ain't nothing, but there is a significant discrepancy between how tithing money is used in Australia vs. how it is used in the rest of the Church.

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12 hours ago, JustAnAustralian said:

A letter was recently (a few days ago) sent out by the Pacific Area Presidency to Church leaders in Australia. The instruction was to discuss it face to face in Priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School etc, rather than a non-personal send-it-out/read it during sacrament.

I won't post it here (since it's not on any of the newsrooms from what I can find), but a few key things that were mentioned

  • Australia generates more tithing than is needed to run the Church in Australia
  • The decision was made to use the surplus funds for humanitarian projects both locally and overseas
  • Australian charity law allows those who donate to a deductible gift recipient* to receive a tax deduction
  • LDS Charities Australia was established for this reason and runs according to Australian law.
  • Humanitarian projects (including those by Red cross etc), are proposed to an LDS Charities Australia committee who decide what projects will be supported
  • LDS Charities Australia is run by Australians

*https://www.acnc.gov.au/tools/topic-guides/deductible-gift-recipient-dgr

A few comments.

1- What it means to "run the Church" is an ambiguous statement. Does "running the Church" include new building construction? The missionary program?

2- Taken at face value, using surplus funds for humanitarian projects is quite noble and the Church should be commended for doing this in Australia.

3- Outside of Australia, the vast majority of surplus funds are not used for humanitarian projects; they are used to build up the Church's for-profit financial empire.

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4 hours ago, Analytics said:

1- What it means to "run the Church" is an ambiguous statement. Does "running the Church" include new building construction? The missionary program?

Their wording was "more tithing is donated by Church members than is needed to run the operations of the Church within the country." So presumably, if it's something that tithing funds would normally go to, that's what they mean. Earlier in the letter they list the things that "tithes and offerings" go to, which included, among many other things, "build and maintain houses of worship and other facilities" and "support missionary service".

Quote

3- Outside of Australia, the vast majority of surplus funds are not used for humanitarian projects; they are used to build up the Church's for-profit financial empire.

Outside of Australia isn't really relevant in regards to this discussion.

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18 hours ago, Calm said:

Thank you for doing this.  While I found enough generic conversations discussing the 75% to  sufficiently confirm for myself prior to Justa stating their tax declaration/receipt had it printed on it (I was debating asking if he had a copy he could share with us, but too much work to hide the personal info imo), which info was enough documentation for me though I know not everyone would feel that way, I have still been trying to find an explicit government statement.

I was hoping to find income tax sheets online, but didn’t.  Didn’t spend much time on it though as Justa shared the receipt info.

For me I don’t doubt the 75 percent number. What I do doubt is that it was achieved without the creative accounting practices (not illegal or even unethical) demonstrated in Australia and Canada. That is, if the church operated in Australia as it does in total, I have significant doubts it would have received DGR status it did. Without data, it’s just speculation. 
 

And again, my only issue here is the innate advantage (and lack of fairness) that multinational billion dollar people and organizations have to circumvent the intent of rules that the rest of us live by. In this case I think it’s a hard case to make that the church even benefited financially (I doubt many latter-day saints consider taxes when they decide whether or not to pay tithing). Rather the church leveraged the fungibility of money and the scale of their operation to give their members a tax break. 

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5 hours ago, Analytics said:

A few comments.

1- What it means to "run the Church" is an ambiguous statement. Does "running the Church" include new building construction? The missionary program?

Construction of buildings?  Probably.  The missionary program?  Probably not entirely (as missionaries from outside Australia are part of that program, and are helping pay for it).

5 hours ago, Analytics said:

2- Taken at face value, using surplus funds for humanitarian projects is quite noble and the Church should be commended for doing this in Australia.

3- Outside of Australia, the vast majority of surplus funds are not used for humanitarian projects; they are used to build up the Church's for-profit financial empire.

Gotta love the loaded terminology here (along with your prior comment about "build{ing} up the wealth of Ensign Peak Advisors").  It seems like you really really want to make it sound like someone, somewhere, somehow, is getting rich off the Church.  And yet we have pretty good information indicating that nothing like that is happening.  At all.  Not even close.

As far as we know, the Brethren are all given a uniform living allowance (IIRC, in 2017 is was $120,000).  Nice, but nothing close to exorbitant.  For no small number of them, being called as a GA is a significant financial sacrifice.

The Church previously did not practice what it preached in terms of financial management.  Now it does.  It keeps its annual operating costs well below anticipated income, then takes the excess and invests it through EPA.

I reject the facile notion that helping our fellow man is per se equivalent to giving money away.   Per this article, "America already spends $4 trillion on social supports, five times more than is spent on the military."  And yet despite that 11.4% of Americans live in poverty.  Perhaps the Church is on to something.  Perhaps there is something to be said in a holistic approach.  Perhaps there is value in encouraging self-reliance as a means of getting off the dole.  

I don't think any of us can speak intelligently about how much time, money and effort the Church is actually spending on humanitarian/charitable/philanthropic efforts.  From this item:

Quote

From helping refugees to clean-water projects, self-reliance courses and disaster relief, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members took part in 3,909 humanitarian projects in 188 countries in 2021, an increase from the previous year.

This outreach included $906 million from the Church and 6.8 million hours of volunteer work by everyday Latter-day Saints, according to the 2021 annual report of caring released on ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

From the above-linked report:

Quote

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints engaged in 3,909 humanitarian projects in 188 countries in 2021. This outreach, an increase from 2020, included $906 million in expenditures and 6.8 million hours of voluntary service.

This information is included in the Church of Jesus Christ’s 2021 annual report of caring for God’s children around the world. (Also see the report in 15 other languages.)
...
Additional information from the report is below.

Global Humanitarian Initiatives

  • 1.74 million people helped through clean water and sanitation projects.
  • Over 600,000 students served through education initiatives.
  • 135 mobility projects in 57 countries and territories.
  • 104 food security projects worldwide.

In all projects, collaboration was key. To provide support for those in need, the Church worked with many organizations, including Concern Worldwide, Catholic Relief Services, UNICEF USA, Water For People, WaterAid, CharityVision and Lions Club International Foundation. The initiatives improved food security and clean water and sanitation systems. They also enabled better access to vision care, immunizations, wheelchair and mobility assistance, and maternal and newborn care for thousands of people worldwide.

Gateways to quality education were provided by the Church’s own Perpetual Education Fund, Benson Scholarship program, BYU–Pathway Worldwide, EnglishConnect and programs designed for refugees and displaced persons around the world.
...

Emergency Response

  • 1 billion vaccine doses distributed.
  • 80 million pounds of food donated.
  • Over 105,000 individual donors at Church-sponsored blood drives.
  • 199 emergency response projects in 61 countries and territories.
  • 585 COVID-19 projects in 76 countries and territories.

Blood drives were a core component of the Church of Jesus Christ’s emergency response in 2021. In the United States, the Church has a long-standing relationship with the American Red Cross that dates to the late 19th century. Latter-day Saints not only make regular blood donations but also assist with scheduling and promoting drives, recruiting individuals to register, and assisting with logistical needs on the day of a drive.

“So many Church members give the gift of life by donating blood,” said American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern. “We get 100,000 units of blood from the Church every year. There is no organization, no institution anywhere, that comes close to that. From a very personal perspective, I am in awe of your community’s commitment to faith and service.”
...

Missionaries, Member Volunteers and JustServe

  • 58,981,916 pounds of goods recycled by Deseret Industries.
  • 137,458 participants in self-reliance groups.
  • 62,000 new local community volunteers registered through JustServe.
  • 21,500 new JustServe volunteer projects created.
  • 11,329 Welfare and Self-Reliance missionaries and long-term volunteers.
  • 9,054 Deseret Industries associates served.
  • 2,800 addiction recovery program meetings per week in 30 countries and in 17 languages.
  • 2,500 new organizations registered on JustServe.

In addition to the Church’s organized humanitarian efforts, Latter-day Saints spent countless hours ministering in their own communities, engaging in community service projects, and more.

The above accounting does not appear to include Fast Offerings, subsidization of education of tens of thousands of students, and a host of other efforts.

Nobody is getting rich from the Church.  The Church has developed a healthy long-term financial strategy for remaining solvent while also funding the Church's mandated duties.  And it's doing a pretty good job.  Rather than acknowledge this, our critics - quelle surprise - find a way to find fault.  The Church is not spending enough of its accumulated wealth.  I will once again point to these trenchant comments from D. Michael Quinn:

Quote

Questions persist inside and outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about the $100 billion reserve the faith has amassed in an investment account.

In this week’s “Mormon Land” podcast, historian D. Michael Quinn says the church’s reserves are actually much steeper than has been reported. But, he adds, so are its expenses, especially in supporting its global presence.

Quinn, a scholar who has done the deepest dive to date into the history of Latter-day Saint finances — his 2017 book, “Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth & Corporate Power,” remains the definitive volume on the subject — discusses the issue.

Listen here.

It's a good interview.

And here:

Quote

Quinn estimates — and estimating is about the best even a top-notch researcher can do — the church took in about $33 billion in tithing in 2010, based on a model of projected growth rates that followed a consistent pattern starting in the 1950s. It earns another $15 billion annually, he says, in returns on its profit-making investments. (The Bloomberg Businessweek piece from five years ago cited an investigation pegging the LDS Church’s worth at $40 billion.)

No matter the precise bottom line, these figures represent an astonishing accomplishment, Quinn says.

“It is an American success story without parallel,” the longtime historian says in an interview. “No institution, no church, no business, no nonprofit organization in America has had this kind of history.”

 

Yet LDS general authorities — from the most senior apostle to the lowest-ranking Seventy — all receive the same yearly “living allowance”: $120,000. Though the church has enormous wealth, he {Quinn} says, none of the leaders is getting rich off it.

...

{Quinn} says the LDS Church’s financial trajectory, as well as the self-sacrificing actions of its hierarchy, is “an enormously faith-promoting story.”

If everyday Mormons could grasp “the larger picture,” he says, they would “breathe a sigh of relief and see the church is not a profit-making business.”

Others, though, may not be as comfortable as Quinn with how corporate the church has become. For that, it takes some historical perspective.

I've never really understood the discomfort some have with the word "corporate" as applied to the Church.  It is clearly intended to have a negative connotation.  As a derisive epithet (pretty much the same vibe as I think is intended from Analytics' phrases like "the Church's for-profit financial empire" and  "build{ing} up the wealth of Ensign Peak Advisors").  I sense that it is intended to characterize the Church as been preoccupied with the accumulation of wealth, at the expense of its members.  For-profit "corporations" are regularly lambasted in the media and in popular culture for having such mercenary, we're-only-in-it-for-the-money-so-screw-the-little-guy motives.  And yet the article overall (and the other quoted previously in this thread) demonstrates that this is not what the Church is doing, that the Church has instead put its financial affairs in order, that it has learned from its past less-than-ideal management of its finances, that its leaders are not amassing wealth unto themselves, and that the profits generated by the Church's for-profit enterprises are being used for the good of the members and society in general.

But for the relentless fault-finders, nothing we do will ever be good enough.  Ever.  

Thanks,

-Smac

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37 minutes ago, smac97 said:

But for the relentless fault-finders, nothing we do will ever be good enough.  Ever.  

Jesus touched on this point during His own ministry:

Quote

But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.

When we hear 'creative accounting practices', 'for-profit financial empire', or even just 'Ensign Peak Advisers', apparently we are supposed to get up and do a little dance (of shame? of doubt? I'm not really sure ...), but as Jesus noted, no dance is ever good enough for such people. Ever.

Personally, the Church's inspired and wise management of sacred funds does actually make we want to dance, but, like David when he returned with the Ark, I choose to do it 'before the Lord'. And like David, I choose to ignore those who tell me to stop. :yahoo:

 

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2 hours ago, SeekingUnderstanding said:

Rather the church leveraged the fungibility of money and the scale of their operation to give their members a tax break. 

Anyone in Australia can reduce their taxable incoming by donating to an organisation on the deductible gift recipient (DGR) registry. The fact that the church in Australia spends enough of its Australian generated donations on appropriate humanitarian causes to allow it to be on the DGR registry means it's doing the same thing that Red Cross etc do. Taking donations and using it for causes. The member still has to donate the money. It's not like they suddenly have all this extra money compared to someone that donates the equivalent amount to Red Cross.

 

Edited by JustAnAustralian
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15 hours ago, smac97 said:

 It seems like you really really want to make it sound like someone, somewhere, somehow, is getting rich off the Church.

You have terrible mindreading abilities. 

15 hours ago, smac97 said:

And yet we have pretty good information indicating that nothing like that is happening.  At all.  Not even close.

Actually, we have irrefutable evidence that that is exactly what is happening. In the immortal words of Mitt Romney, "Corporations are people, my friends." Ensign Peak Advisors is a person, and it is getting rich off of the Church.

15 hours ago, smac97 said:

The Church previously did not practice what it preached in terms of financial management.  Now it does.

The Church teaches that people and non-profits should hoard their wealth? CFR.

15 hours ago, smac97 said:

It keeps its annual operating costs well below anticipated income, then takes the excess and invests it through EPA.

Whether or not doing this is good or bad depends upon the state of the corporation's balance sheet. If the non-profit already has more than 1-3 years of operating expenses in its "rainy day fund," then doing what you just admitted the Church does is hoarding.

According to CharityWatch:

"Giving is a fixed pie, remaining steady at about 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) for over four decades. Because charitable dollars are limited and society's needs are not, it is vital that charities do not hoard the funds they raise. When a charity sets aside excessive funds for possible, future needs that may or may not ever occur, this necessarily makes these funds unavailable for other charities to use to address more urgent needs. Charities that hoard donations are in some cases ignoring the intentions of donors who contributed in response to a solicitation for a charity's current programs, not programs that might be conducted five, eight, or even ten years in the future.

"CharityWatch believes it is reasonable for a charity to set aside less than three years' worth its annual budget for financial stability and possible future needs. When a charity's available assets in reserve exceeds three years' worth its annual budget, CharityWatch downgrades its final letter grade rating."

15 hours ago, smac97 said:

I reject the facile notion that helping our fellow man is per se equivalent to giving money away.   Per this article, "America already spends $4 trillion on social supports, five times more than is spent on the military." And yet despite that 11.4% of Americans live in poverty.  Perhaps the Church is on to something.  Perhaps there is something to be said in a holistic approach.  Perhaps there is value in encouraging self-reliance as a means of getting off the dole.  

If you drill down on that $4 trillion number and understand what you're looking at, you figure out that the $4 trillion includes "tax breaks with social purposes." That means included in the $4 trillion are subsidies in the form of tax breaks, including the subsidies that the Church and its affiliate corporations claim. Given that EPA is a $100 Billion private foundation that spends $0 on charitable purposes (including donations back to the Church) and pays $0 in taxes, it might be the single largest benefactor of the social support your lament. 

15 hours ago, smac97 said:

Nobody is getting rich from the Church.  The Church has developed a healthy long-term financial strategy for remaining solvent while also funding the Church's mandated duties.  And it's doing a pretty good job. 

Everything you just said here is false:

  1. Ensign Peak Advisors is getting rich from the Church. 
  2. Hoarding money isn't healthy. Including investment income, the Church uses something on the order of 60%-70% of its total income to purchase stocks, bonds, commercial real-estate, and for-profit businesses. the remaining 30-40% is used for religious and charitable purposes. The United States ought to have common-sense tax policies more like Australia's so that this isn't tax-deductible or tax-exempt.
  3. The Church doesn't have a long-term financial strategy, healthy or otherwise. It has a simplistic, obsolete tactic of setting budgets equal to 85% of tithing revenue and saving the rest. That isn't strategic, and it isn't healthy.

My accusation isn't that the Church has some greedy inner circle that is personally getting rich off of this. My accusation is that it is run by nonagenarians with neither the vision nor the courage to do anything substantial with their wealth other than stay on autopilot and continue to use most of their income to increase the size of their for-profit corporate empire.

The only reason you concluded that the Church's hoarding behavior is healthy is because you are an apologist and an enabler. Find me one reputable source that says non-profits should spend the majority of their income on growing their reserves, even when their reserves are already large enough to cover their operating expenses for 20+ years. Just one. The truth is you can't. 

15 hours ago, smac97 said:

Rather than acknowledge this, our critics - quelle surprise - find a way to find fault.  The Church is not spending enough of its accumulated wealth.  I will once again point to these trenchant comments from D. Michael Quinn:

Take a step back here. If this were a court case, my first fact witness would be David Nielsen. He has an MBA from UCLA where he specialized in finance. He worked as a senior portfolio manager at EPA where he had access to the Church's income statement and balance sheet at a level of detail that not even the apostles were authorized to see. And my first expert witness on what is and is not wise strategies for charities would be Laurie Styron, the Executive Director of CharityWatch (the organization I linked to above that shows how egregious the Church's hoarding is). From her bio:

Laurie Styron was appointed Executive Director of CharityWatch in 2020 after more than sixteen years of commitment to the organization. She served as CharityWatch’s senior analyst through 2012, and thereafter as a program consultant through her nonprofit accounting and consulting practice. Laurie has logged more than 10,000 hours as a nonprofit financial analyst, including advising a wide range of media outlets on investigative pieces involving nonprofits, conducting research and financial analysis, and providing interviews for television and radio, as well as print/online publications. Laurie has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, MarketWatch, CBS MoneyWatch, Rolling Stone, NBC Nightly News, and by many other media outlets. She has also vetted charities for feature on Good Morning America, and has worked with 60 Minutes, Canada's The Fifth Estate, and many other news organizations on charity-related investigations.  

In contrast, your witness is D. Michael Quinn? Why should we believe Quinn's estimates of Church revenue and expenses rather than the actual reports Nielsen has provided in his whistleblower report? Why should we believe Quinn's thoughts about the wise financial management of charities rather than CharityWatch's?

So why did you choose Quinn? Does he have insider knowledge on the Church's income statement and balance sheet? Does he have expertise on wisely running multi-billion-dollar churches or charities?

15 hours ago, smac97 said:

I've never really understood the discomfort some have with the word "corporate" as applied to the Church.  It is clearly intended to have a negative connotation.

Actually, it's purely descriptive.

15 hours ago, smac97 said:

But for the relentless fault-finders, nothing we do will ever be good enough.  Ever.  

Two points. First, why did you use the word "we"? I'm criticizing the behavior of the First Presidency and the Presiding Bishopric. I'm not saying anything at all about you.

Second, did you notice that your diatribe on this is in response to me saying, "Taken at face value, using surplus funds for humanitarian projects is quite noble and the Church should be commended for doing this in Australia." Why won't you acknowledge the good things I say about the church? 

It seems very, very, important to you to believe I have no principles behind my criticisms because that allows you to ignore what I say and just attack me personally instead.

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1 hour ago, Analytics said:

Actually, we have irrefutable evidence that that is exactly what is happening.

Well no, we don't.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

In the immortal words of Mitt Romney, "Corporations are people, my friends." Ensign Peak Advisors is a person, and it is getting rich off of the Church.

Perhaps you missed this "See also" link in the Wikipedia article: Legal fiction § Corporate personhood

I invite you to give some further thought to what "legal fiction" means.

If the Brethren or others were living profligate, high-off-the-hog lifestyles, I think your indignant pearl-clutching schtick would be more justified.  But that isn't happening, so you have to resort to equivocating and dissembling silliness like the above.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:
Quote

It keeps its annual operating costs well below anticipated income, then takes the excess and invests it through EPA.

Whether or not doing this is good or bad depends upon the state of the corporation's balance sheet. If the non-profit already has more than 1-3 years of operating expenses in its "rainy day fund," then doing what you just admitted the Church does is hoarding.

Meh.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

According to CharityWatch:

"Giving is a fixed pie, remaining steady at about 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) for over four decades. Because charitable dollars are limited and society's needs are not, it is vital that charities do not hoard the funds they raise. When a charity sets aside excessive funds for possible, future needs that may or may not ever occur, this necessarily makes these funds unavailable for other charities to use to address more urgent needs. Charities that hoard donations are in some cases ignoring the intentions of donors who contributed in response to a solicitation for a charity's current programs, not programs that might be conducted five, eight, or even ten years in the future.

"CharityWatch believes it is reasonable for a charity to set aside less than three years' worth its annual budget for financial stability and possible future needs. When a charity's available assets in reserve exceeds three years' worth its annual budget, CharityWatch downgrades its final letter grade rating."

"CharityWatch believes" being the operate phrase here.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

If you drill down on that $4 trillion number and understand what you're looking at, you figure out that the $4 trillion includes "tax breaks with social purposes." That means included in the $4 trillion are subsidies in the form of tax breaks, including the subsidies that the Church and its affiliate corporations claim.

And also the "tax breaks" that everyone else claims, right?  Presumably including your upstanding self?

I guess this is one of those "It's only wrong when the Mormons do it, and otherwise shut up" things.  Funny, that.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

Everything you just said here is false:

  1. Ensign Peak Advisors is getting rich from the Church. 
  2. Hoarding money isn't healthy. Including investment income, the Church uses something on the order of 60%-70% of its total income to purchase stocks, bonds, commercial real-estate, and for-profit businesses. the remaining 30-40% is used for religious and charitable purposes. The United States ought to have common-sense tax policies more like Australia's so that this isn't tax-deductible or tax-exempt.
  3. The Church doesn't have a long-term financial strategy, healthy or otherwise. It has a simplistic, obsolete tactic of setting budgets equal to 85% of tithing revenue and saving the rest. That isn't strategic, and it isn't healthy.

My accusation isn't that the Church has some greedy inner circle that is personally getting rich off of this. My accusation is that it is run by nonagenarians with neither the vision nor the courage to do anything substantial with their wealth other than stay on autopilot and continue to use most of their income to increase the size of their for-profit corporate empire.

EPA is a "person" only in a legal fiction sense.

Using loaded, risible terms like "hoarding money" and "for-profit corporate empire" tends to weaken your argument.  

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

The only reason you concluded that the Church's hoarding behavior is healthy is because you are an apologist and an enabler.

To quote a guy: "You have terrible mindreading abilities."

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

Find me one reputable source that says non-profits should spend the majority of their income on growing their reserves, even when their reserves are already large enough to cover their operating expenses for 20+ years. Just one. The truth is you can't. 

I reject (or dispute) the premises stated/implied here.  

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

Take a step back here. If this were a court case, my first fact witness would be David Nielsen.

If this were a court case, would it be civil or criminal?  

If criminal, what charges are pending against the Church?  I suspect the answer would be "none."  

If civil, what causes of action are alleged against the Church?  Find me one reputable source that can articulate a cognizable claim against the Church for its handling of its finances.  Just one.  The truth, I suspect, is you can't.  And if you can't, then the complaint filed against the Church would be subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.  That being the case, you would never get to call David Nielsen - or anyone else - as a fact witness.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

He has an MBA from UCLA where he specialized in finance. He worked as a senior portfolio manager at EPA where he had access to the Church's income statement and balance sheet at a level of detail that not even the apostles were authorized to see.

Okay.  And?

The supposed "whistleblowing" schtick has been ongoing for years now.  And as you so readily and regularly demonstrate, the Church has lots of critics who would love to see it raked across the coals in court.  And yet as regarding EPA, that hasn't happened, nor is there any indication of such in the offing.  Why do you think that is so?

Meanwhile, you and yours seem to have essentially nothing to say about any other non-profit entity.  Earlier in this thread I critiqued an article out of Canada decrying the Church's use of tithes from Canadian Latter-day Saints to subsidize education at its schools:

Quote
Quote

The Fifth Estate collected financial reports the church submitted to CRA since 2000. The documents show that LDS in Canada started moving money across the border to BYU in 2007 by sending them $50 million. Then, in 2009, it sent another $40 million, then almost $103 million in 2010 and $100 million in 2011, all the way to last year, when it sent $93.6 million. In all, the money sent by LDS to the U.S. in that time period totals more than $1 billion. 

The Fifth Estate also collected the list from CRA of the money Canadian charities have sent to all foreign universities in the same 15 years. 

Comparing the data, BYU got approximately the same amount of money from Canada as eight Ivy League universities combined — that's Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Pennsylvania and Yale all together.

...

Quote

Kennett said he always thought tithing was a good thing because charities are doing good work for communities. He doesn't think that way anymore. 

"I understand that if I was to donate to the University of Alberta, that I would get a donation tax credit for that because it eases the strain of the federal and provincial governments for funding those institutions.  But $100 million going towards BYU doesn't do anything to alleviate the financial strain of provincial and federal governments in Canada," he said. 

So he's okay with donations to educational institutions, but only if they are in Canada?

Meanwhile, the article also discusses various other American schools who have received donations from Canadians, including Harvard (endowment: $53 billion), Stanford (endowment: $37 billion), Brown (endowment: $7 billion), Columbia (endowment: $14 billion), Cornell (endowment: $10 billion), Dartmouth (endowment: $8 billion), Princeton (endowment: $37 billion), Pennsylvania (endowment: $20 billion), Yale (endowment: $42 billion), Berkeley (endowment: $6.8 billion), Loma Linda University ($461 million), Yeshiva University (endowment: $814 million).

No mention of this guy getting all hot and bothered by Canadian dollars being donated to these institutions, which dollars also "{don't} do anything to alleviate the financial strain of provincial and federal governments in Canada."

CharityWatch has zero search results for "Harvard," "Princeton," "Yale" and so on.  All not-for-profit entities with pretty big endowments (and all paying their administrators and professors handsomely, too).

So "take a step back" yourself.  It sure seems like the special pleading-style criticisms being levied against the Church have more to do with hostility against the Church than with objective and even-handed concerns about charitable entities generally.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

And my first expert witness on what is and is not wise strategies for charities would be Laurie Styron, the Executive Director of CharityWatch (the organization I linked to above that shows how egregious the Church's hoarding is).

CharityWatch does not monitor religious charities.  From its website:

Quote

CharityWatch does not accept requests from charities that ask to be rated, nor do we charge charities to be listed in our publication or website, or for the right to publicize their ratings. CharityWatch does not report on churches, synagogues, mosques, political action committees (PACs), fraternal clubs, colleges, or local institutions such as hospitals and museums. CharityWatch does report on the separate human and social welfare organizations of religious groups, such as the Salvation Army, Red Cloud Indian School, and others.

The current list of organizations rated by CharityWatch can be found here.

So good luck getting Ms. Styron qualified as an expert witness in your imagined court case.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

From her bio:

Laurie Styron was appointed Executive Director of CharityWatch in 2020 after more than sixteen years of commitment to the organization. She served as CharityWatch’s senior analyst through 2012, and thereafter as a program consultant through her nonprofit accounting and consulting practice. Laurie has logged more than 10,000 hours as a nonprofit financial analyst, including advising a wide range of media outlets on investigative pieces involving nonprofits, conducting research and financial analysis, and providing interviews for television and radio, as well as print/online publications. Laurie has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, MarketWatch, CBS MoneyWatch, Rolling Stone, NBC Nightly News, and by many other media outlets. She has also vetted charities for feature on Good Morning America, and has worked with 60 Minutes, Canada's The Fifth Estate, and many other news organizations on charity-related investigations.  

She sounds like an admirable person, but with no particular experience, training, insights, etc. regarding charitable donations to religious organizations in general or the Church in particular.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

In contrast, your witness is D. Michael Quinn? Why should we believe Quinn's estimates of Church revenue and expenses rather than the actual reports Nielsen has provided in his whistleblower report? Why should we believe Quinn's thoughts about the wise financial management of charities rather than CharityWatch's?  So why did you choose Quinn?

CharityWatch has had exactly nothing to say about the finances of the Church.

Quinn could, I suppose, be both a "fact" witness and an "expert" witness (depending on the context of the legal claims - which you have left conveniently unstated and vague).  And "Quinn's thoughts" about the Church's finances are likely both relevant and probative because he, unlike Lauri Styron, has extensively researched and investigated the Church's finances.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

Does he have insider knowledge on the Church's income statement and balance sheet?

He sure has a lot more information and insight as to the church's finances than Laurie Styron.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

Does he have expertise on wisely running multi-billion-dollar churches or charities?

Does Laurie Styron?

1 hour ago, Analytics said:
Quote

I've never really understood the discomfort some have with the word "corporate" as applied to the Church.  It is clearly intended to have a negative connotation.

Actually, it's purely descriptive.

Right.  As "purely descriptive" as "hoarding" and "for-profit corporate empire."

You keep telling 'em, son...

1 hour ago, Analytics said:
Quote

But for the relentless fault-finders, nothing we do will ever be good enough.  Ever.  

Two points. First, why did you use the word "we"?

For the same reason I use first-person plural pronouns when discussing Americans, Utahns, adult males, and so on.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

I'm criticizing the behavior of the First Presidency and the Presiding Bishopric. I'm not saying anything at all about you.

Yes, yes.  We've all heard the "It's your church we despise, not you" song and dance before.

Anti-Mormons are not all created equal.  Are you wantonly and intractably vindictive and dissembling and unfair like Ed Decker?  Not by a country mile.  Are you flagrantly hypocritical and self-aggrandizing like John Dehlin?  Nope.  Are you as vicious and mean-spirited as Mike Norton?  Not even close.

Are you a formidable intellect?  Well-informed as to the Church generally (and in some respects, specifically)?  Yes and yes.  No doubt about it. 

But you are also patently anti-Mormon, as overtly and consistently opposed to the Church as much as I am in support of it.  Your posts are regularly drenched in hostility, barbed and loaded characterizations (and no small number of caricatures), ugly insinuations, worst-possible assumptions, and so on.  So spare us the "Hey, I'm just an impartial and objective looky-loo, just calling 'em as I see 'em" routine.  You've been here far too long, and said far too much, to try to carry that off.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

Second, did you notice that your diatribe on this is in response to me saying, "Taken at face value, using surplus funds for humanitarian projects is quite noble and the Church should be commended for doing this in Australia." Why won't you acknowledge the good things I say about the church? 

Because "taken at face value," preceded and followed by protracted harangues against the Church (using loaded, risible terms like "hoarding," "for-profit corporate empire," etc.), made the former come across as an implication that the Church's charitable efforts in Australia shouldn't be "taken at face value."

Similarly, "the Church should be commended" came across as a hypothetical.

1 hour ago, Analytics said:

It seems very, very, important to you to believe I have no principles behind my criticisms because that allows you to ignore what I say and just attack me personally instead.

It is important to me that the Church be defended, that it be given a fair shake, and that falsehoods and distortions and unfair caricatures about it not be left unanswered.

I am utterly indifferent to you and your principles.  I am defending my faith from your regular disparagements and judgments against it.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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2 hours ago, smac97 said:

If the Brethren or others were living profligate, high-off-the-hog lifestyles, I think your indignant pearl-clutching schtick would be more justified.  But that isn't happening, so you have to resort to equivocating and dissembling silliness like the above.

The dynamics that are playing out on the Church are exactly what I've always criticized. You have this simplistic view that the only possible thing the Church could do with its money that would be wrong is making a natural person rich or otherwise living a "profligate, high-off-the-hog lifestyle." But that isn't my criticism and never was.

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

Meh.

"CharityWatch believes" being the operate phrase here.

I note that you didn't list a single expert or organization that materially disagrees with Charity Watch. That's because 100% of experts agree that charities and churches shouldn't hoard. For example:

Propel Nonprofits: A commonly used reserve goal is 3-6 months' expenses. At the high end, reserves should not exceed the amount of two years' budget. At the low end, reserves should be enough to cover at least one full payroll.

BoardEffect: As a general rule of thumb, nonprofits should set aside at least 3-6 months of operating costs and keep the funds in reserve. Ideally, nonprofits should have up to 2 years’ worth of operating expenses in the bank. 

Nonprofit Accounting Basics: The rule of thumb suggested by the Nonprofit Operating Reserves Initiative Workgroup is a minimum reserve of 25% or three months of the annual operating expense budget. Many organizations strive to increase that reserve to six months once the three-month reserve is achieved.  

Mediquis Asset Advisors: It is recommended across the industry that nonprofit organizations should seek to achieve standard reserve level targets (e.g., three months, six months or one year of operating expenses), but these thresholds vary based on each organization’s unique circumstances. Each organization has a unique business model, risk exposure, and financial circumstances. Therefore, the level of assets that are set aside to mitigate risks will vary among organizations. Generally, abide by a three-, six-, or twelve-month level of operating expenses, but an organization’s specific circumstances will affect this.

Lumix CPAs and Advisors: “But at what point are the reserves considered excessive?”  The Standards for Excellence Institute sets a range of three to six months of working capital, and state that “Organizations also risk having reserves that are too large.  Nonprofits are in the business to deliver services in furtherance of their missions, not to accumulate wealth.”   The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance ‘Standards for Charity Accountability’ allows you to meet their standards with three years or less of current operating expenses.  

I could go on and on and on.

In contrast, you can't find a single authoritative source that would describe the Church's approach as anything other than hoarding.

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

And also the "tax breaks" that everyone else claim, right?  Presumably including your upstanding self?

I guess this is one of those "It's only wrong when the Mormons do it, and otherwise shut up" things.  Funny, that.

My position here is principle-based. That is why I'm quoting source after source after source that deals with the underlying principles. Any organization that claims to be a public charity but behaves like a private foundation ought to be taxed like a private foundation. There is nothing in that statement along the lines of "it's only wrong when the Mormons do it."

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

EPA is a "person" only in a legal fiction sense.

I'm glad we agree on something!

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

Using loaded, risible terms like "hoarding money" and "for-profit corporate empire" tends to weaken your argument.  

I was merely trying to be accurate and descriptive. 

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

I reject (or dispute) the premises stated/implied here.  

How so? I said, "Find me one reputable source that says non-profits should spend the majority of their income on growing their reserves, even when their reserves are already large enough to cover their operating expenses for 20+ years. Just one."

What about that do you dispute?

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

If this were a court case, would it be civil or criminal?  

If criminal, what charges are pending against the Church?  I suspect the answer would be "none."  

If civil, what causes of action are alleged against the Church? 

I'm not talking about a literal court case. I'm talking about using the rules of evidence in the friendly debate we are having here. 

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

The supposed "whistleblowing" schtick has been ongoing for years now.  And as you so readily and regularly demonstrate, it has lots of critics who would love to see it raked across the coals in court.  And yet that hasn't happened.  Why do you think that is so?

I don't know.

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

Meanwhile, you and yours seem to have essentially nothing to say about any other non-profit entity.

Could that be because this forum isn't about other non-profit entities?

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

So good luck getting Ms. Styron qualified as an expert witness in your imagined court case.

She most certainly is qualified in dealing with the limited question of the point when "saving for a rainy day" turns into hoarding.

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

Quinn could, I suppose, be both a "fact" witness and an "expert" witness (depending on the context of the legal claims - which you have left conveniently unstated and vague).  And "Quinn's thoughts" about the Church's finances are likely both relevant and probative because he, unlike Lauri Styron, has extensively researched and investigated the Church's finances.

Quinn is a brilliant historian, but he doesn't have any relevant expertise in finance. His speculations about the Church's wealth are embarrassing.

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

I am utterly indifferent to you and your principles.  I am defending my faith from your regular disparagements and judgments against it.

You come across as indifferent to principles in general. You defend your faith, regardless of the merits of the particular criticism. 

 

Edited by Analytics
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7 hours ago, Analytics said:

Your mama wears army boots!

🤓. You are always clever in your posts, and except for the occasional insulting stuff, I enjoy reading what you write.  But to clarify:

Mom donated her boots to Goodwill ages ago.  At 95, she is still an incredibly beautiful, intelligent and gentle soul who taught us to be tolerant lovers of peace and civility.

I wish you peace, Analytics.

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15 hours ago, helix said:

"This may be the greatest statistic in the history of statistics, maybe ever."  -- Donald Trump.

My statistic is wayyyy better than that guy's.

15 hours ago, helix said:

We're a religion.

True. You are totally free to believe and do whatever you want. I'm not suggesting otherwise.

However, giving favorable tax treatment to a group because they are a religion is problematic, at best.

15 hours ago, helix said:

 We look at scripture precedent...

The one that says, "Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things"?

15 hours ago, helix said:

...like Joseph of Egypt preparing for seven years of famine, and like any religion, we feel we should be free to do something similar if we choose.  Was Pharaoh wrong because he agreed to "hoard" 350% to 2800% more?  Was he wrong to prepare for seven years of famine instead of three months, six months, or two years?

I'm not following your specific percentages there, but I will point out a couple of things. First, the Church doesn't have the goal of saving for seven years of expenses in its rainy day/reserve. Rather, it has the goal of perpetually keeping expenses down to about 85% of tithing revenue, and investing the rest in for-profit businesses. When you now consider investment income as part of total income, it is now at the point where most of its income goes towards buying more stocks, more bonds, more commercial real estate, and more for-profit businesses. The minority of its total income goes towards operating the Church and to charity. Because of that, I think  critics have a fair point when they say it is primarily a giant hedge fund that happens to also have a religious operation. Quoting Jesus again, " For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

My second point is that the reserve has blasted past 7 years of expenses and is now somewhere near 15-20 years of expenses. Think about that. Every time there has been a crisis in the past, (e.g. the great recession, the pandemic), the Church responded by cutting expenses and was able to avoid tapping into its reserves. But it now has enough in reserves so that tithing could go to zero, investment income could go to zero, and expenses wouldn't be cut at all, but it would still be able to pay all of its bills for perhaps 20 years.

How much is enough?

But to answer your question, if Pharaoh starved his own people now because he wanted to save up food for himself for a hypothetical 20-year famine sometime in the distant future then yes, that would be wrong.

15 hours ago, helix said:

What about other non-profits?  Harvard is going against your "100% of experts" because they are treating their nest egg as both a perpetual fund and a nest egg.  They are able to fund students this way, and their endowment is roughly 10x their yearly budget.  Way beyond what you insist is ethical.

That is a good example; thank you for bringing that up. The Harvard Trust is a private foundation, and I have been arguing that EPA is a private foundation and ought to be taxed that way. The big difference between the Harvard Trust and EPA is that Harvard uses most of its investment income to fund the university. In contrast, EPA uses all of its investment income to build up the size of EPA's asset portfolio. Do you see the difference there?

An endowment in a private trust is different than the "rainy day fund" the Church claims it has. With an endowment, the explicit purpose is to help fund the charitable organization it supports. EPA doesn't do that. The only thing it does is makes money for the purpose of having more money to invest in money-making endeavors.

The IRS doesn't want billionaires to dodge taxes by "donating" to private foundations that don't actually donate any money to charitable purposes. Because of that, there is a rule that says they must donate 5% of their principle to charity every year, otherwise it will be taxed on its investment income. 

If EPA doesn't want to donate 5% of its principal to charity purposes it doesn't have to, but it should be required to pay taxes on its income, just like any other hedge fund. 

15 hours ago, helix said:

Likewise, other highly respected non-profits well exceed the so-called "100% of experts" recommendation:  https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/10-universities-with-the-biggest-endowments

If it's good enough for Joseph of Egypt to prepare for seven years of famine, and it's good enough for respected universities to run funds this way, it's also good for a religion to do something similar.

Repeating my point for emphasis, the 3-year rule is for rainy-day funds, which is what the Church claims it has. This is money that the Church saves and doesn't spend. With endowments such as the "respected universities" you allude to, their purpose is to create investment income to fund their endeavors. The Church uses its investment income to build its asset portfolio, not to help run the Church or help with other charitable endeavors.

Edited by Analytics
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