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Former Latter-day Saint Church investment portfolio manager alleges billions in unpaid taxes, Washington Post reports

Posted at 9:17 PM, Dec 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-16 23:19:42-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A whistleblower filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service in November, claiming The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has stockpiled billions of dollars in surplus funds instead of using them for charitable purposes, The Washington Post reports.

The Post wrote that it had obtained a copy of the complaint filed by David A. Nielsen, who The Post says is a member of the church and who worked as a senior portfolio manager at Ensign Peak Advisors, the church’s investment division, until September of 2019.

According to the article, his twin brother Lars P. Nielsen helped prepare and submit the complaint. The Post also states that David Nielsen had asked Lars Nielsen to “write an exposé.”

The Post wrote that the complaint alleges the church has amassed $100 billion in surplus tithing that it did not pay taxes on. The complaint indicates that there could be billions of dollars of unpaid taxes, some of which may be paid to the whistleblower if recovered by the IRS.

According to The Post’s report, the complaint states that the church collects about $7 billion each year in tithing funds — contributions from members who are instructed to give 10 percent of their income.

The Post states that about $6 billion is used to cover annual operating costs, and the complaint claims that about $1 billion is transferred to Ensign, and some of that is invested.

The complaint reportedly estimates that Ensign’s portfolio value has grown from $12 billion to $100 billion since its creation in 1997.

The Post writes that since Ensign is registered as a “supporting organization and integrated auxiliary” of the church, it is permitted to operate as a nonprofit and benefit from the church’s tax-exempt status.

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins responded to FOX 13’s request for comment with the following statement, including links:

Thanks for your inquiry. We receive these types of questions from time to time, and have therefore prepared a rather extensive description of the Church’s financial processes and procedures (including a Q&A section) for journalists.

Here are a few links to the resources I’ve described above:

The Church does not provide information about specific transactions or financial decisions. However, I’ve tried to gather a few important principles from within those materials (See the links above for more complete information):

Principles of Church Finances
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a singular purpose: to invite all people to come unto Christ. The Church is not a financial or profit-making institution; it uses resources to carry out its divinely appointed mission. The Church is a steward of the tithes and generous donations provided by its members, and it practices the principles it teaches — avoiding debt, living within a budget and preparing for the future.

Following sound financial principles over an extended period of time, the Church has grown from meager beginnings into a worldwide organization able to support its divine mission.

Church Financial Reserves
“Church members are taught to “gradually build a financial reserve by regularly saving [a portion of their income]” (Providing in the Lord’s Way: Summary of a Leader’s Guide to Welfare [booklet, 2009], 2). The Church applies this same principle in its own savings and investments. In addition to food and emergency supplies, the Church also sets aside funds each year for future needs. These funds are added to Church reserves, which include stocks and bonds, taxable businesses, agricultural interests and commercial and residential property. Investments can be accessed in times of hardship or to meet the emerging needs of a growing, global faith in its mission to preach the gospel to all nations and prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (see Gérald Caussé, “In the Lord’s Way: The Spiritual Foundations of Church Financial Self-Reliance,” Church Newsroom, Mar. 2, 2018).

Some investments serve a dual purpose. For example, Church President Gordon B. Hinckley stated that “we have felt that good farms, over a long period, represent a safe investment where the assets of the Church may be preserved and enhanced, while at the same time they are available as an agricultural resource to feed people should there come a time of need” (“The State of the Church,” Ensign, May 1991, 54). Another example is the Church’s participation in the development of downtown Salt Lake City. With its investment in City Creek (a mixed-use development that includes retail space, residential units, office space and parking), the Church enhanced the environs of Temple Square and underscored a commitment to Salt Lake City, Utah, where it is headquartered. The investment increased local economic activity during a financial downturn and attracted visitors and residents to Salt Lake City’s historic downtown.

The Church’s reserves are overseen by Church leaders and managed by professional advisers, consistent with wise and prudent stewardship and modern investment management principles. Ultimately, all funds earned by the Church’s investments go back to supporting its mission to invite souls to come unto Christ.”

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The Tax Status of the Church
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pays all taxes that are required by law. Latter-day Saints believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (Articles of Faith 1:12). Worldwide, the Church and its affiliated entities pay applicable taxes and other governmental levies. In the United States, where churches and other nonprofit organizations are generally exempt from federal and state income tax, the Church pays taxes on any income it derives from revenue-producing activities that are regularly carried on and are not substantially related to its tax-exempt purposes. Church-affiliated entities that are organized as for-profit corporations pay regular federal and state corporate income taxes on their net income. The Church and its affiliated entities also pay property taxes on property that is not used for religious, educational or charitable purposes, including taxes on undeveloped land and properties held for investment or commercial purposes. Government fees, levies and assessments are paid in connection with the development of Church property. The Church also pays federal and state employer taxes and withholds and remits employee payroll taxes. Where applicable, the Church and its affiliated entities pay state and local sales and use taxes.”

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The full report from The Washington Post can be found here.