The popular news program 60 Minutes released a segment on its program discussing the obscene wealth of the church and the whistleblower complaint filed by David Nielsen. His complaint alleges that the Mormon Church claims to behave as a non-profit charity, but in reality, is a for-profit corporation pursuing investments and investments. The church never likes negative press but at this point, while they are already dealing with changing their own narrative and attempting to inoculate church members so they don’t all leave when discovering the church has not been honest with its history causes members a crisis of faith. They’ve worked hard in recent years to distance themselves from the Mormon moniker, but have been very prevalent in the news still due to this whistleblower report, subsequent settlement with the SEC, sexual abuse scandals, and more. They have had a very busy period of public relations and are working around the clock to control their image.
In response to the SEC settlement, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints first issued a response claiming “the matter is closed,” in an attempt to stop conversations about it. David Nielsen felt it was time though, to go public with his allegations and share that the church has been dishonest in handling its money and should be held accountable. He feels that not only is the church’s integrity at stake but also his own personal integrity.
Church Responds to 60 Minutes with Official Church Statement
The Church believes in being financially responsible by carefully ensuring it has adequate resources available to fulfill its divinely appointed responsibilities. To Church members who support the work of salvation through living the gospel of Jesus Christ, caring for those in need, inviting all to receive the gospel and uniting families for eternity, we’ll continue to move forward consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ which makes this world a better place.
It’s unfortunate ‘60 Minutes’ sought to elevate a story based on unfounded allegations by a former employee who has a different view on how the Church should manage its resources.New Release: Statement Issued Following CBS ‘60 Minutes’ Report
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints again has issued a statement in response. This time regarding the report by CBS “60 Minutes” news program. The church statement calls it a “magazine program” and makes the claim that “we’ll continue to move forward consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ which makes this world a better place”. The statement claims that the Church is financially responsible and carefully ensures it has adequate resources available to fulfill its responsibilities.
The statement also points out the program’s “unfortunate” reliance on “unfounded allegations” made by a former employee who holds a different view on how the Church should manage its resources. This is echoed in the report where the presiding Bishop Waddell states “I think part of the lack of trust, or lack of confidence comes from statements or comments from a whistleblower who doesn’t have all the information, who doesn’t understand, that were incorrect. And that’s not how it works.”
The church and the Presiding Bishopric seem to think that if they state that something is not true, they can make it so. They are wording their retorts cleverly, like lawyers carefully stating that this (unnamed) whistleblower doesn’t have all the information, and doesn’t understand the full situation. They are spinning a tale to appease the members that this whistleblower is simply a disgruntled employee who must have left the church in sin and is after the publicity and fame he can get by discrediting the church. They want the world to think these are “unfounded allegations” but in reality, these allegations have at least some merit, because they have already cost the church $5 Million in fines. If the allegations were unfounded, why would the church have reached a settlement with the SEC because of them? They reached a settlement where they admit though in a veiled way they were at fault when they stated that they “regret mistakes made.” This fact discredits their claim that the allegations are unfounded. Nielson worked for the church for about 10 years, starting in 2009. He was also able to provide accounting documents to substantiate his claims. There’s a 74-page document showing these allegations are well-founded.
They claim that Whistleblower David Nielsen has “a different view on how the church should manage its resources.” But it’s only a different view in that David wants the church to follow the law, and the church will do anything it can (even if illegal and immoral) to hide its money so no one can tell them what to do with it.
Financial Transparency or Disclosure
The church will never be transparent with its finances because they fear by doing so, as Bishop Waddell clears up if they do “everyone will be telling us what they wanted to do with the money”. He also clearly states that the church is aware that this point is bothering members when he said he’s “sure there are some members of the church who are saying that” but he counters that “there are many members of the church who are not saying that.” So, it doesn’t bother these church leaders at the top that members are troubled by the information that the church has so much wealth and does so little with it. The only thing they can say is that the church is full of “many people with varying opinions”, so if it bothers some people, it doesn’t bother everyone!
Chalking this up to simply a “difference in opinion” reflects what Bishop Waddell said in his interview regarding the secrecy surrounding the church funds. When asked about the mistrust fostered by the secrecy, he claimed that the church isn’t being secret, it’s being confidential. When pressed to clarify the difference between the two, he could only come up with it being a “point of view”
Sharyn: What about, you know, the idea that secrecy builds mistrust
Waddell: Well, we don’t feel it’s being secret, we feel it’s being confidential.
Sharyn: What’s the difference?
Waddell: The difference is, uh… I guess it’s a point of view. It’s confidential in order to maintain the focus on what our purpose is and what the mission of the church is rather than, the church has x amount of money.
Sharyn: But don’t you agree? This would be a non-issue if there was more transparency.
Waddell: No, because then everyone will be telling us what they wanted to do with the money.60 Minutes Transcript: Whistleblower David Nielsen Speaks Out After Reporting the Mormon Church to IRS in 2019
When asked “Is there any discussion about regular disclosure of what’s happening with church finances?” He states point-blank: “No. There’s no more discussion about disclosing the value of the totality of the resource of Ensign Peak.” There are no plans or discussions about being more transparent with these funds. Even though President Hinckley stated in an interview that this information belongs to those who made the contribution.
That information belongs to those who made the contribution, and not to the world.Salt Lake City, Utah January 29, 2002 Conducted by Helmut Nemetschek at 47 East South Temple, Prior To And In Preparation For, The “Mormon Winter Olympics” – Full Transcript: https://wasmormon.org/gordon-b-hinckley-interview-transcript-zdf-german-television/
Deseret News Makes a Jab
The church-owned “news” organization also had something to point out about the 60 Minutes coverage. Deseret News points out that “the story rehashed widely reported items about the church’s investments and spending and one man’s criticisms, a self-described “whistleblower” who once worked with church investments.” Then they counter that the coverage on 60 Minutes failed to mention the correlated church history about church finances.
What the “60 Minutes” segment about the church’s finances and other reports often miss is the sweeping and at times poverty-ridden history that helps explain the church’s finances and decision-making today, including its modern-day record of self-sufficiency that sustains a global church.In CBS’s ‘60 Minutes’ segment on church finances, it missed the sweeping rags-to-riches history of faith
This seems irrelevant to point out. Is the article claiming that since the church was once poor, it should be praised for hoarding money now? They proceed to then discuss the church finances today. They want to talk about actual figures but simultaneously point out repeatedly that these figures were suggested without a source. The source for these claims are obviously the whistleblower report filed with the IRS and SEC in 2019. The same report was clear enough to force the church into a settlement with the SEC. The whole point that there are no “official” sources for these figures is that the church keeps the figures a secret. They can’t complain that there were no sources for these estimates when the church doesn’t provide figures. Anyone discussing this then is forced to deal with estimates only. They rephrase this secrecy or confidentiality by saying “the church does not publicize how much money it has.”
Today, the church has a stock portfolio worth tens of billions of dollars. “60 Minutes” said some have estimated the church’s assets total as much as $150 billion, though it didn’t provide a source for that figure. The church does not publicize how much money it has so it can keep the focus on its religious mission, Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, told “60 Minutes.”
The program suggested, again without a source, that the church takes in $7 billion in tithing each year and spends $6 billion on its various religious and charitable causes, investing what remains for a time of need. These funds are managed by an investment arm known as Ensign Peak Advisors, which is not considered a separate entity but rather functions as an “integrated auxiliary” of the church.
If the church did have $150 billion, a figure the church did not confirm during the “60 Minutes” interview, then the $6 billion it is said to spend annually on its mission would represent 4% in annual charitable spending, above what a retired IRS executive told “60 Minutes” would be necessary for a non-church 501c3 to maintain its nonprofit status. Unlike other charitable 501c3 entities, churches are not required by the IRS to make minimum disbursements.In CBS’s ‘60 Minutes’ segment on church finances, it missed the sweeping rags-to-riches history of faith
Deseret News wants to do some math on the “suggested” $150 billion they have in Ensign Peak Investments. They say that the church spends about 4% on “its mission,” citing the $6 billion in expenses. Most non-profits are required to spend a certain amount on charitable work in order to maintain their status as a non-profit. Private foundations specifically are required to spend 5% on humanitarian aid. Luckily for the church, all churches are exempt from this requirement and are not required to show any portion of their expenses are for charitable purposes.
The Deseret News article conflates a few things here though. First, the $150B is not the total assets of the church, it is only the “estimated” value of Ensign Peak Advisors investments. There are also more investments, and real estate, and more which are included in the assets of the church. Next, the $6B they refer to is also an “estimated” value, but it’s not particularly “humanitarian” work. It’s functional, for things like paying for church buildings, utility bills, building temples, paying General Authority living allowances and reimbursements, all the church administration office employees, advertising budgets, etc etc. No one in their right mind could place all these as charitable work.
Deseret News also has the audacity to quote excommunicated D Michael Quinn in their “history” of the church and finances as well as discarded Church Historian Leonard Arrington.
Caring For Those In Need?
They do claim the recently touted $1B contributions to humanitarian efforts. This is a complex number that the church is again, not transparent about. They claim for the past 3 years nearly a billion dollars spent on humanitarian and charitable works. But just a few years before, in 2016, Oaks was proud to announce a $40 million average over the previous three decades, amounting to the same amount they contribute annually now roughly $1B. This indicates that humanitarian efforts have increased sharply since 2016. What happened between 2016 when this was applauded and the sharp increase in supposed charitable donations? Ah, that’s right the whistleblower report in 2019! In fact, starting in 2020, immediately after the 2019 whistleblower complaint, the church released annual humanitarian aid reports called “Caring for Those in Need”. This could be a coincidence, but it could also be cause and effect. Just like how after excommunicating Sam Young, they started allowing (not requiring) appropriate interviews with Bishops.
- The church appears to have significantly increased the amount it is donating to charity. Or maybe not.
In a report two years ago, the church wrote that “since 1985, Latter-day Saint Charities and its affiliates have provided over US$2.5 billion worth of assistance in 199 countries and territories. This amount does not include the value of volunteer labor, worth many millions of dollars.”
This means that in the past two years the church gave nearly $2 billion to charitable projects, whereas it reported giving $2.5 billion over the previous 35 years put together.
That’s either a) an astonishing and welcome increase over a short period of time; b) an apples-to-oranges comparison because one entity is LDS Charities and the other is the church itself; or c) an indication that the church has recently changed the way it counts charitable contributions.
I think it is likely a combination of these factors, but with emphasis on the lattermost.In the 2022 report, I’m not seeing a repeat of that earlier language about how the amount “does not include the value of volunteer labor.” Rather, it appears that volunteer labor might indeed be quantified in some way to reach that $1.02 billion figure.For example, the report touts more than 6.3 million hours of service by church members around the world, including donating blood to the Red Cross, serving humanitarian missions, facilitating addiction recovery groups, helping people displaced by natural disasters and teaching language classes to refugees.It also appears that the church is quantifying its own in-house assistance programs that help members only, such as fast offerings (which members contribute in addition to their tithing), bishops’ storehouses, Family Services counseling and church food programs.All of these are worthy and wonderful things. But the only monetary donations to outside charities that I see mentioned in the report add up to $63.9 million:$32 million to World Food Program USA$5 million to UNICEF$5.1 million to the American Red Cross$16.8 million to Ukrainian relief efforts$5 million for temporary housing for displaced persons in North AmericaThat’s not to say there weren’t other donations that aren’t mentioned in the report, which is all we have to go on. (Once again, a commitment to complete and regular financial transparency would go a long way here.) But from the report’s own information it seems that $63.9 million may be the real number, or closer to the real number, of what the church donated in cash to charity.Jana Riess, 6 things we now know (maybe) about the LDS church’s wealth. A new ‘60 Minutes’ interview raised questions about the LDS church’s finances, including whether its wealth now amounts to $150 billion.
Following the Caring for Those in Need section of the church website invites visitors to donate to the “Humanitarian Aid” Fund. It displays the description that the fund is “to relieve suffering, foster self-reliance and provide opportunities for service. Relief is provided to people around the globe without regard to race, religious affiliation, or nationality.” But it’s easy to miss the fine print on even this donation form which echos the tithing slip fine print: “Though reasonable efforts will be made to use donations as designated, all donations to Church programs become the Church’s property and will be used at the Church’s sole discretion to further the Church’s overall mission. Donations designated for approved programs at the institutions of higher education will be used for the designated purposes of such donations.” So evidently, even donations coming into the humanitarian fund likely get swept into Ensign Peak investments. Which makes it more caring for those in wealth, no? Like 60 minutes stated the church “used false records and statements to masquerade as a charity, stockpiling money and misleading church members.”
This reflects a big part of the complaint, that the church has no accountability in managing the donated funds. They are clear that they are not interested in hearing what the members would like the funds spent on and go out of their way to hide the totality of the wealth still today.
Even Newsweek noticed the impotent response from the church. They point out that Nielsen clearly was “able to provide accounting documents to substantiate his claims” while the church still refers to them as “unfounded” and Deseret News even said no source was provided for the claims multiple times. They think that can change the truth by starting it, but of course that is normal procedure for the Mormon church.
The News questioned the legal merits of his allegations and suggested investigative programs might instead focus on the church’s $1 billion humanitarian relief.
Nielson, who worked for the church for about 10 years, starting from 2009, was also able to provide accounting documents to substantiate his claims.
Deseret News, which is ultimately owned by the church but editorially independent, on Tuesday, accused 60 Minutes of having “recycled” old complaints to raise questions that “already have rather banal answers.”
“Again, it’s ‘sweeps’ season, and CBS needs eyeballs.”Mormon-Owned Paper Slams ’60 Minutes’ Episode: ‘CBS Needs Eyeballs’
- 60 Minutes Transcript: Whistleblower David Nielsen Speaks Out After Reporting the Mormon Church to IRS in 2019
- LDS Church’s Misstated Filings to SEC Approved by First Presidency
- Gordon B. Hinckley Interview Transcript– ZDF German Television
- That information belongs to those who made the Contribution
- Whistleblowing On the Mormon 100 Billion “Rainy-Day Fund”