Senator Turns Focus to Churches

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) has been a driving force behind recent efforts to improve transparency in the charitable sector, including the revisions to the Form 990, Annual Information Return and focus on governance policies. Senator Grassley recently turned his focus to churches and other religious organizations. At his request, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (“ ECFA”), a national accreditation organization for churches and other religious organizations, will lead an independent, national effort to review and provide input on major accountability and policy issues affecting churches . According to ECFA’s website, the newly formed ”Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations” will address some of the most challenging tax and policy issues involving religious organizations, including whether churches should file the same highly-detailed annual information return that other nonprofits must file (Form 990); whether legislation is needed to curb abuses of the clergy housing allowance exclusion; whether the current prohibition against political campaign intervention by churches and other nonprofits should be repealed or modified; and whether legislation is needed to clarify tax rules covering “love offerings” received by some clergy. Although it is not clear whether Senator Grassley’s focus will result in major changes, it is advisable for churches to take a second look at policies with knowledgeable advisers regarding housing allowance, campaign activities, and love offerings – it is quite likely that these areas will be a focus of the Senate and IRS for some time to come.