| Senator Chuck Grassley is considering how to proceed with an investigation of six televangelists who may be abusing their tax-free status. The Des Moines Register gives some background:
In November 2007, Grassley did the right thing when he sent six "media-based ministries" a letter asking them about everything from executive compensation to the list of vehicles purchased or leased. He wondered, for example, why a tax-exempt organization - which the public subsidizes by paying more taxes because that organization doesn't pay any - was purchasing a $23,000 commode.
Just like his many other investigations of tax-exempt organizations, Grassley operates under the proper assumption that all charitable organizations enjoying preferential tax status should have to earn that status and be accountable to the public.
The questioning of the televangelists was "nothing more than a nonprofit tax review," Grassley has said.
Most of the ministries have cooperated. But one - Kenneth Copeland Ministries - has been especially arrogant. Copeland has refused to respond to questions about compensation and publicly said he would not cooperate.
The Register's editorial board wants Grassley to issue subpoenas, which could lead to contempt charges, to demonstrate that Copeland can't get away with stonewalling a Senate investigation.
In May, Copeland launched a website attacking Grassley for "religious McCarthyism." If you're curious, click over to the Believers Stand United site, and explore the various hit pieces on Grassley and the man who may have given Grassley information about the ministries under investigation.
Will Grassley issue a subpoena against the uncooperative preacher who may go to jail rather than testify before his committee?
I am curious to see how far this clash will escalate. It's not the kind of thing that would threaten Grassley's career, but it can't be pleasant to have popular evangelicals trash your reputation. I don't listen to Christian talk radio--anyone know how much play this story is getting?
In other news, Grassley was annoyed with Senate Democrats for rejecting what he thought was a deal on the Medicare bill passed last week:
He said that Republicans and Democrats put together a bipartisan agreement and had been "working together for months until the Democratic leadership pulled the rug right out from under that effort" and made the vote partisan. Democrats engaged in an "unconscionable effort to scare seniors and providers," Grassley said.
Even more painfully for Grassley, Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., publicly denied in CQ Today having reached a deal with Grassley earlier.
Grassley and Baucus work closely together. If the Democrats pick up four or five seats in the Senate, perhaps Baucus will become less willing to compromise with Grassley. Then maybe Iowa's senior senator will decide he doesn't need the hassle of serving another six years in the minority. Maybe retiring in 2010 would be better than facing defeat after defeat in a Democratic-controlled Congress.
Grassley's seat is safe as long as he wants it, but this becomes a strong pickup opportunity for Democrats if Grassley retires.
Then again, maybe the flattering coverage he gets for token efforts to reduce waste are enough gratification to keep Grassley in his current job forever. Case in point: the Register noted that Grassley has written a letter to the president
to complain there are too many government-owned SUVs and big sedans that sit around Washington idling while waiting for their passengers.
"Some of the biggest culprits of this practice are vehicles attending to Cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries and assistant secretaries," Grassley wrote Bush on Thursday.
With gasoline prices rising, Grassley said that when he walks out and sees the vehicles, "it just looks to me like the federal government is out of touch," when it should be leading the way.
That article goes on to say that Grassley never allows his staff to let a car idle while waiting for him. It's the kind of publicity he loves, highlighting what a modest, common-sense guy he is.
Look, it's nice not to waste gas by idling, but it would be nicer to have more fuel-efficient vehicles on our roads.
Unfortunately, Grassley has stood with failed Republican policies on energy policy for many years and has repeatedly opposed higher mileage requirements for cars and trucks.
Also, it would be nice for government officials not to waste taxpayer money by letting cars idle, but it would be nicer not to keep spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq while we are running up massive debt.
Unfortunately, Grassley votes for every Republican tax cut package and every blank check to fund the Iraq War.
He's far from the worst in the Republican Senate caucus, but I would sure like to see him get fed up enough to retire in two years.