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RELIGION : Falwell, Robertson Investigated by IRS

From Religious News Service

Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are among 29 television preachers whose ministries have been investigated in the last year by the Internal Revenue Service.

Spokesmen for the two religious broadcasters confirmed that they were among those involved in a report that was recently sent to the oversight subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee by Assistant IRS Commissioner Robert I. Brauer.

The probes were a follow-up to an October, 1987, hearing called by Rep. J. J. Pickle (D-Tex.) to examine whether tax-exempt broadcast ministries were complying with the federal tax code.

University Probe

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Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for Falwell, said the Lynchburg, Va., minister was told that an IRS probe of his Liberty University would begin in January and that the probe may later move on to his broadcast ministry, the Old Time Gospel Hour. DeMoss said the Falwell ministry had been audited twice before by the IRS, in 1972 and 1981, and “there were no problems.”

Frankie Abourjilie, public relations director for the Christian Broadcasting Network, said the IRS was probing whether Robertson had illegally used money from the network to help finance his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

The Washington Post quoted Brauer’s letter to the House subcommittee as saying that “civil issues in virtually all the cases involving prominent television evangelists focus on diversion of the tax-exempt organization’s income for the private benefit of insiders.”

It added that “political campaign activity” was also an issue in three of the cases and that three examinations of lesser-known evangelists involved criminal investigations.

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The report of the IRS probes came as members of National Religious Broadcasters began submitting financial reports to that organization in compliance with its new code of ethics, which was adopted in February.

National Religious Broadcasters, whose 1,300 members make up about three-quarters of the U.S. television ministries, has set up an Ethics and Financial Integrity Commission to certify compliance with requirements to disclose every source of income and every expenditure. Current and potential members have been given a 90-day period--from Nov. 15, 1988, to Feb. 15, 1989--to submit reports, which will be reviewed by a special panel.

Ben Armstrong, the group’s executive director, said members will be given two years to comply with some requirements of the code, such as makeup of governing boards. There is no specific deadline for others, he said, adding that the matter of enforcing compliance will probably be discussed at the organization’s annual convention Jan. 28-Feb. 1 in Washington.


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