60 Minutes, David Nielson, and Ensign Peak Advisors

Sunday night, 60 Minutes aired a 13-minute segment on Ensign Peak Advisors. And honestly, if you’ve been following the story closely (I have!), there’s not a lot of new information here.

But not a lot isn’t no new information. And, in any event, the piece featured David Nielson, the whistleblower from 2019, speaking publicly for the first time, as well as Bishop Waddell, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric representing the church’s point of view. (It also featured an interview with Phil Hackney, a law professor at Pitt and, full disclosure, a friend, colleague, and coauthor of mine.)

I’m not going to give a full rundown of the piece. I’ve written about the tax and securities issues previously. And anyway, at 13 minutes (half that if you watch it at 2x speed!), watching it isn’t a heavy lift. Instead, I’m going to highlight a couple things that I found interesting and important.

Beneficial Life

In 2019, Nielson wrote that the church had “silently bail[ed] out Beneficial Financial Group … to the tune of $600 million[.]” It had “paid $1.4 billion … to shore up cost over-runs … in the construction of the opulent City Creek Mall[.]” And beyond those two things, it had “distributed 0% of its assets in each of the other 16 years since it was hastily incorporated[.]”

Early in the 60 Minutes segment, Nielson says, “Like, I’m not an expert on charities. But I’ve been around the block enough to know that charitable organizations can’t bail out for-profit businesses and maintain their charitable status.”

And he’s right, kind of. That is, once you donate money to a tax-exempt organization, that money can’t just be transferred to a for-profit organization. Rather, it has to stay in the tax-exempt world.

Sometimes a tax-exempt organization stops operating and shuts down. When it does that, its remaining assets have to go to other tax-exempt organizations; it can’t just distribute them to individuals or for-profit organizations. And sometimes a tax-exempt organization decides to transform into a for-profit entity (think especially nonprofit hospitals, which often enjoy huge amounts of revenue). Without getting too deep in the weeds, this generally involves the nonprofit selling its assets to the for-profit. But then, the nonprofit has to distribute the sales proceeds to other charitable organizations.

But that doesn’t mean that a tax-exempt organization can’t ever give money to a non-exempt person or organizations. My employer is a tax-exempt, nonprofit university. But it pays me a salary. And it’s not just that it pays me a salary: it pays, for instance, Microsoft, a very for-profit corporation, for the right to use Office 365.

And it’s not just that: tax-exempt organizations can invest in for-profit entities. And honestly, that take City Creek off of the board in terms of potential wrongdoing. In his interview, Waddell is clear on this, explaining that “[t]he mall was not a bailout. The mall was an investment.” There is absolutely no question that the church can make investments.

But what about the payment to Beneficial Life, the one Nielson originally alleged represented a silent bailout? Well, Waddell also characterizes it that way: “The church actually owned Beneficial Life. And fortunately, the church had the resources to bail out Beneficial Life during the financial crisis, 2008,. 2009.” He goes on to say that most of that money has been repaid.

Honestly, it depends on what Waddell means by a “bailout.” If it had been a capital contribution, there would likely be no problem (especially as a wholly-owned subsidiary—if there were other noncontributing shareholders, that could present a problem). If it were a loan, it would probably be fine. The IRS has acknowledged that tax-exempt organizations can make loans (though there may be tax consequences to the receipt or non-receipt of interest under certain circumstances). But if it’s just a transfer of money to a for-profit organization, it’s not permissible, as Hackney points out.

Phil and I are attorneys. As such, we appreciate—and strive for—specificity in language. But here, the language of “bail-outs” doesn’t provide that kind of specificity. I suspect, based on Waddell’s statement, that this was a loan from EPA to Beneficial Life. But he’s not careful with his language and, without more information, I can’t be certain.

And this leads us to my second thought:

Bishop Waddell

Look, there’s no nice way to put this: Waddell went in unprepared and did a terrible job. It’s not just him characterizing the transfer from EPA to Beneficial Life as a bailout. At one point, the interviewer asks Waddell about the idea that “secrecy builds mistrust.” He replies, “We don’t believe it’s being secret. We believe it’s being confidential.” She proceeds to ask the logical follow-up question: what’s the difference between secret and confidential. And he’s stumped.

The thing is, this isn’t any kind of gotcha question. He posited a meaningful difference between the two words, but had no explanation of what that difference entailed. Which, to me, suggests that he went into the interview either unprepared or, at least, underprepared.

Frankly, as a practicing member of the church, I’m not shocked. I’ve been to too many Stake Conferences where a visiting General Authority gives a 40-minute talk that is clearly extemporaneous and unprepared. And almost inevitably, it’s terrible, rambling, and pointless.

And that’s not unexpected. Most of us aren’t good at speaking without preparation. And honestly, we’re nice people and we don’t boo them.

But this idea that they can speak off-the-cuff, without significant preparation, comes back to bite them when they’re not talking to an audience that won’t call them on it.

I don’t litigate, but I know litigators. And litigators who argue in front of the Supreme Court inevitably moot their argument beforehand. That is, they get a number of their colleagues to play the part of Justices and ask them hard questions. They do that both to try to determine what kinds of questions the Justices will have and practice their responses. (Heck, whenever I get an email from a journalist, I spend at least half an hour or an hour refreshing myself about whatever topic they’re asking about.)

All of the 60 Minutes questions could easily have been anticipated. Waddell could have prepared. But, for whatever reason, he chose not to.

That’s not the only thing, though: right after I watched it, a friend messaged me about the piece. My friend, who is not a member of the church but is, frankly, tremendously friendly to the church, wrote, among other things, that he came across as “[p]atronizing, know-it-all, mildly creepy.”

In short, he was unprepared for inevitable questions. He came across poorly. And he seems to have lacked understanding about the transactions he was there to talk about. That kind of lack of preparation isn’t ideal for Stake Conference talks. But it’s far worse for communications with people who aren’t inclined to give our spokespeople the benefit of the doubt in all things.

Nielson Undercut His Assertion

Finally, Nielson’s big argument that EPA had violated its tax-exempt status is that it had never used its assets for charitable purposes.

Waddell disagreed—he said that the church takes money out of EPA 8 or 9 times a month.

And the thing is, Nielson agreed with that assertion! But, he said, “Money’s going in and out of the cash accounts all the time. But Ensign Peak’s funds were never used for any charitable purpose, to my knowledge, the whole time I was there.”

There are a couple things to unpack here. First, I have to admit I don’t have any idea what Nielson means by “cash accounts.” I looked it up on the SEC’s website: a cash account is a brokerage account that doesn’t let you buy securities using borrowed money. That’s clearly not what Nielson is talking about. (Also, for tax reasons, tax-exempt organizations don’t borrow money to make investments.)

Nielson does give a metaphorical example of what he means: he compares this cash account to a checking account, as opposed to the body of the investments, which is like a savings account. But that really doesn’t do anything to help his assertion. I have savings and checking accounts, too. I pay for stuff out of my checking account. But when I need more cash there, I transfer it from my savings account. And when I have more than I need in my checking account, I transfer it to my savings account.

In fact, for purposes of allowing the church to use the invested money charitably, it’s necessary to have an account filled with cash. EPA generally isn’t going to distribute securities to the church; in most situations, it will sell the securities and distribute cash.

And that’s the thing: if making charitable distributions is a requirement for an integrated auxiliary like EPA (and I would argue that, whether or not it should be, under current law it is not), if money is going out of EPA accounts to the church “all the time” (again, Nielson’s words), then that money is, in fact, being used for charitable purposes. Which undercuts his big argument for why EPA violated its tax exemption.

Final Thoughts

I’m not trying to impugn Nielson’s or Waddell’s good intentions here. I have no doubt Nielson legitimately feels like EPA violated tax law (and he’s right that it violated securities law). And I have no doubt Waddell believes that the church acted appropriately. But neither of them manages to make a strong case for their view. And that’s my takeaway from Sunday’s 60 Minutes.

For Further Reading

Plenty of other people have written about this too. On RNS, Jana Riess wrote about six things that we might now know about the church’s wealth.

Over on the Nonprofit Law Prof Blog, my coblogger and friend Darryll Jones wrote what I find to be a remarkably (and unsurprisingly) fair and thoughtful reaction to the segment.

The Salt Lake Tribune believed that Nielson came off well, while the church didn’t. (To be fair, while Nielson undercut his allegation, he did come across as measured and confident.)

The church issued a press release saying it was “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.” (I have to confess I have little patience for this kind of after-the-fact press release; 60 Minutes gave the church a full opportunity to respond and explain its side of the story. It’s not the show’s fault that the church flubbed its response.)

Image by National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution. CC BY-NC 2.0


  1. I’ve known Dave for years and am still in contact with him. Many of the descriptions of his recruitment and employment were like the Beneficial bailout details – vague and imprecise and not accurate enough to cause frustration with the piece. There were few follow up questions to anybody and no new information. Pretty frustrating.

    I’m pretty tired of the church being so bad and smug about PR. They might not care what the interviewer thinks of the church, but I’m tired of my conversations with friends being driven by negative portrayals in the media that we’ve done nothing to mitigate.

  2. Balanced, informative, and thoughtful, Sam. Well done.

  3. BluePlanet says:

    Compounding works really well if you consistently save and invest prudently, and it works *amazingly well* if you live a long time. Nate Oman discussed this facet of the church’s finances in the Deseret News piece. Morgan Housel (“Psychology of Money” author) notes that Warren Buffett made ~$82 billion of his $85 billion in wealth after his 65th birthday. The church’s current fiscal path began around the mid-1960s, and here we are, roughly 60 years later. Go look at any compound interest graph / calculator and see what happens after that amount of time. The pace of growth is slow for a long time, then magic happens.

    Most (all?) senior church leaders lived during a time when the church’s finances were far different than they are now and I think many still live with a “depression era” mindset. (Honestly, I bet you that many of them are very surprised at how the church’s wealth has grown). It’s not the worst thing to be especially conservative when it comes to money management. BUT, I think it is time for church leaders to enter a new dialog with church members about the church’s financial status. I’m hearing more grumbles these days about “why can’t the church pay for youth conference if they have $100 billion”. The old narratives are not working as well anymore.

  4. Thanks for this analysis. The Church really has no good way to explain its lack of transparency. The explanations that it does offer only work for people with unflagging trust in the institution.

  5. Thanks everyone.

    PLM, I’ve been thinking about how Waddell could have responded to the question about whether the church has $150 billion. While, like you, I lean toward transparency, I also assume the church told him he couldn’t say. It wouldn’t be satisfying, but I’d prefer he have said something like:

    “EPA’s 13F shows that we have about $40 billion in publicly-traded securities. And we have additional investment assets, too. Church policy prevents me from being more specific than that, but clearly we have a lot of money. We’re doing our best to be good stewards of our members’ donations and to use that money in ways that build the Kingdom and improve the world.”

    It’s not as satisfying as confirming whether the church has $150 billion or not, but it’s better, in my opinion, than evading and avoiding and trying to create rhetorical differences that are not supportable. And it’s true, which is also a good thing.

  6. Peppermint says:

    I felt frustrated by the piece because it didn’t delve at all into the many layers that make this fund an issue *within* the church, though doing so in 13 minutes would be impossible. The real story is about where the money comes from in the first place, where it isn’t being spent, and who is bearing the burden. The real story is in the Bountiful Children’s Foundation, feeding starving LDS kids in Guatemala. The real story is the struggling young family paying for activities out of their own pockets because the primary budget is a handful of change per year when the amount of tithing the congregation pays far exceeds what they’re given. The real story is missionaries paying their own way while simultaneously not being given enough money for food, living in cockroach infested apartments, and relying on members for their nutrition. It’s lavish temples and outdated ward buildings. It’s in the mystery of how the church calculates its charitable donations–volunteer hours, DI donations, and fast offerings included? It’s donated old toys in the nursery and a whole lot of settlements paid to keep sex abuse survivors quiet. It’s impoverished members paying their tithing for years and then sitting in the bishop’s office to beg for help with the rent.

    So many of these stories are concerned about whether the church broke and rules, and about the philosophical question of whether it’s moral for a Christian church to have this much money. I think outsiders would find it pretty fascinating to learn more about the insider’s experience of money in the church, from the stinky nursery in your neighborhood ward building to the hungry Sunbeam in Haiti, to the chandelier in the Celestial Room.

  7. swimlikeabrown says:

    It all makes me so sad and angry. I believed my tithing (given with great sacrifice) was going to do good in the world. Instead the church was hording it and hiding it. They claim to follow Christ but clearly do not. They are the great evil they warn us of.

  8. Thank you for this great post, Sam. I am very interested, but very unknowledgeable about this type of law. I feel like everything I read is at either end of the extremes. It’s nice to get an educated, non-biased take on what is really happening.

  9. Old Man says:

    I greatly appreciate your analysis. Well done.

    I think greater transparency is coming. I hope that we don’t have any more bumps along the road until we reach that point. Because this one was absolutely bone-jarring for so many.

  10. Unlike the title of this site – By Common Consent – there really is no common consent in the church. The general members are kept in the dark of so much. That is sad. There is a tiered leadership class, and everyone else. Finances are only one piece of the secrecy, the lack of transparency.

  11. lastlemming says:

    Thanks for the excellent commentary.

    I want to follow up with a different perspective on the Beneficial Life “bailout”. Like you (and everyone else) I wish Nielson and Waddell had been more precise in what that entailed. I hope that it was structured as a formal loan. That would make the whole thing a non-issue from a tax perspective and it wouldn’t have been that difficult to arrange. But I want to talk about the outrage factor.

    Immediately after this bailout (as acknowledged by the Nielsons in their written document), Beneficial Life stopped writing new policies–its sole purpose became to pay out existing policies. In other words, although it was still structured as a for-profit company, it was no longer being operated for the purpose of making a profit. The people being bailed out were not fat-cat shareholders, but policy-holders who had been making premium payments in good faith for years (and, of course, their beneficiaries–myself being among them). If they did not structure the bailout properly, then shame on them. But the implication by the Nielsons that the whole thing was motivated by greed is simply unwarranted. If outrage is warranted (and, again, it may not be), it should be because Ensign Peak was either too lazy or too incompetent to follow a fairly straightforward law. (Sound familiar?)

    And perhaps that the Church (in the form of Waddell) is either too incompetent or too paranoid to clearly explain what happened. It never ceases to amaze me that the Church still hasn’t learned that the sleight-of-hand that works on members does not work on nonmembers. And it just keeps on happening.

  12. Steven Pynakker says:

    Steven Pynakker

  13. Nielson didn’t say “you have a checking account and a savings account.” He said, “checking account and retirement account.” We don’t constantly move money out of retirement account to cover shortfalls in checking account but like you, Sam, I do move funds from checking to savings and vice versa multiple times a month.

    EPA doesn’t constantly sell securities to cover church expenses. That’s ridiculous. Those fund do indeed stay put and grow un impeded.

    Also, Waddell DID in fact confirme the $150 bil by not contesting it. If it was $100 b he’d had been able to say, “Oh, we don’t have anywhere near that amount.”

    With $150 B the Church has 30 years’ worth of operating expenses funding. What is Jesus coming back again?

    Waddell purposely muddied the waters too.

  14. Thanks Martie. I took notes on a lot as I watched, but clearly not everything.

    If he said “retirement account,” then that’s clearly inapposite to what he’s describing. While I don’t know exactly how EPA is structured, and I still have no idea what he meant by “cash account,” it’s pretty clear from Nielson’s and Waddell’s comments that the church has been pulling money out of EPA on a regular basis. And of course it’s pulling out of an account with liquid assets; the church doesn’t want EPA to distribute a bunch of GameStop stock.

    Like I said, I’m pretty comfortable saying that there was no tax problem even if EPA didn’t make any distributions to the church. (And, to be clear, I’m not saying this is a good or bad state of affairs, just that it seems to be the state of the law.) But if it was in fact making distributions—even if those distributions were from a liquid account that only barely dipped into principal—then that argument entirely disappears.

  15. Nothing in the piece refuted what other church investment officials already stated was the reason for the church’s obfuscation of its enormous wealth – they attempted to hide the wealth from the members because they thought members would stop paying tithing if they knew.

    Regardless of whether tax/non-profit laws and regulations were violated, etc., church leadership deliberately sought to deceive the membership. That fact always seems to get lost when we start to analyze the merit of the alleged legal violations, but it is the most damning one of them all, and it was explicitly admitted by the executive in charge of the whole operation. Waddell could have come ready and given great responses to all of Nielson’s allegations, but it would not change the fact that the leadership lied to the members so the members would keep giving money. I wonder if the church is relieved to have technical arguments to focus on in hopes that we will all forget about their attempted deception.

    Sam’s post was great, fair, and informative, and his points are important and relevant (thank you!), but let’s not forget the most salient fact underpinning this whole issue is that the church lied to the members.

  16. Rockwell says:


    Thanks for your legal analysis which is always interested, fair, and insightful. Although Nielson may have undermined his legal point (logos), I think he came off pretty well with his ethos and pathos.

    With that said when it comes to religion, the court of public opinion is perhaps just as important as the court of law. And in order for the church to win in the court of public opinion, we need to present our best face to the public.

    So I’m also reaching out to you because I haven’t been able to reach you by phone or email. I just want to remind you that it is your ward’s turn to clean the church next month. Families with last names starting with A truth G are assigned the first weekend. If you can’t make it please trade with someone doing it another week. And remember that unlike temple cleaning, you don’t actually have to pay ten percent of your income for the privilege of cleaning the bathrooms at our local ward building.

    Remember that we don’t ask the members to clean the buildings in order to save money. We OBVIOUSLY don’t need to worry about that, lol. No, we want to keep our members engaged in the upkeep of our buildings so that they can be uplifted in the work of building and cleaning the kingdom. And with our PR folk stepping in so much doodoo all the time, we need to start really being involved in keeping our buildings clean.

  17. Rockwell, I agree. Nielson came off confident and self-assured. Even though he undercut some of his points, his self-presentation was excellent.

    And for cleaning the building—would you rather I tell you I’m busy and can’t make it? or is it better if I agree to bring my kids and then just don’t show up?

  18. Dragons, sitting on their hoards of gold, while requiring the widow’s mite for spiritual activities like temple attendance. It’s disgusting, and they should be ashamed. But of course, they are not.

  19. Peppermint: My thoughts exactly. Well said.

  20. The Church’s finances are an abomination. Moroni prophesied that in our day the “holy church of God,” which any believing latter-day saint would have to admit is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, would be like this. Here’s what Moroni wrote:

    Mormon 8:36 And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.

    37 For behold, ye do ***love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches***, ****more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted****.

    38 O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?

    39 Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?

    40 Yea, why do ye build up your secret abominations to get gain, and cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also orphans to mourn before the Lord, and also the blood of their fathers and their husbands to cry unto the Lord from the ground, for vengeance upon your heads?

    41 Behold, the sword of vengeance hangeth over you; and the time soon cometh that he avengeth the blood of the saints upon you, for he will not suffer their cries any longer.

  21. Jay Christensen says:

    The interesting point to me is that the Church admittedly engaged in a dishonest scheme to avoid legal reporting obligations. From this, one may infer that the Church would rather violate its oft-stated ethical standards than face scrutiny from either within or without. ====

  22. This isn’t really related but I’ve come to air my grievance that our building, most particularly the bathroom, hasn’t been cleaned in at least three weeks. Idk who’s dropping the ball but volunteer building cleaning isn’t working. Use that money where we actually need it.

  23. My wife got a Communications degree with an emphasis in PR from the Y, so that’s the lens she tends to view the world with; and she has been flabbergasted by how poorly Church leadership—with its immense resources, analytics-driven missionary department, and stable of highly-trained PR experts teaching and researching at their own flagship university—has been at handling this fiasco.

    Even tabling for now the question of whether the church should be spending more of its immense wealth on humanitarian aide (and it absolutely should), Church leadership has been fumbling their response at a very basic level. They have never controlled the narrative once, or even seriously tried to; they have been utterly reactive, never proactive (something like the Deseret News rebuttal should’ve preemptively come out ahead of the 60 Minutes broadcast, not after); and as both the op and commentators have noted, their spokesmen have been embarrassingly unprepared and unpracticed. They’ve clearly forgotten how to talk to people who talk back, and seem perpetually flummoxed that this story refuses to die.

    Their poor response matters, because them getting lost in the weeds on whether or not a mall is an investment, or what a bailout is, or the distinction between confidential and secret, does nothing to make the broader public interested in opening their doors to the missionaries. (Say what you will about the old Gordon B. Hinkley 60 Minutes interview, but he at least seemed aware of and interested in how we come off to outsiders).

  24. Matthew Arnold says:

    Sam I liked your article. I also wish there were more specific details as well that would draw a clearer picture. Also I recently watched a piece on YouTube where D. Michael Quinn was interviewed. Apparently he was given full access to the Church’s financial records some years back and wrote about it. He said the records and the numbers in his words were faith promoting and this coming from a guy who was Ex’d back in the 80’s or something. I know this isn’t tax law and is probably old need to you. It was pretty cool at least in my eyes of the content of this interview.

  25. Matthew Arnold says:

    Sam I liked your article. I also wish there were more specific details as well that would draw a clearer picture. Also I recently watched a piece on YouTube where D. Michael Quinn was interviewed. Apparently he was given full access to the Church’s financial records some years back and wrote about it. He said the records and the numbers in his words were faith promoting and this coming from a guy who was Ex’d back in the 80’s or something. I know this isn’t tax law and is probably old news to you. It was pretty cool at least in my eyes of the content of this interview.

  26. Geoff - Aus says:

    In Australia we may get this in a few weeks, but tonight we have starting a 2 part series on Israel Folau who is an ex LDS rugby player, who posted messages about guys among others going directly to he’ll. It will include an interview with his bishop.
    More advertising for the church.

  27. Geoff - Aus says:


  28. Rockwell says:

    @rachel if you tell me what letter your last name starts with I’ll let you me when you’re assigned week is. Or if you want to do it this week you can take my slot, as I have resolved that I will never clean a church bathroom again.

  29. @Rockwell, for heavens sake can the ward please purchase the necessary cleaning supplies. I know money is tight but with the all free labor the church is getting it seems like the least it could do is provide adequate equipment. Maybe you can find some money in the primary budget?

  30. I donate money to a variety of charities. I use Charity Watch to help me evaluate them. One thing they do is downgrade charities for accumulating assets beyond what’s needed to fund three years of operation. I think this is pretty reasonable. I find it fascinating that the church can’t seem to articulate what it needs multiple decades worth of assets for. The most likely explanation is that the church simply brings in more money than it knows what to do with. It really baffles me that an organization claiming Christ’s name can’t figure out how to put it’s riches to good use. The church seems both confused and offended that it’s periodically criticized for being so wealthy. It’s because the church’s namesake literally told the rich to sell everything and give it to the poor! Burying riches, even in the form of stock ‘investments’, is the opposite of that.

  31. Nice article and good job by 60 minutes. I wanted to respond to Sam’s take on Bishop Waddell’s responses. I’m perfectly happy with his responses, which I think were honest if slightly evasive. I believe he shows clearly what the institutional church values (money, the ability to act independently of U.S. norms and laws, evasiveness since they feel they are accountable to God and not to members of the church or heaven forbid, journalists) and what it doesn’t value (transparency, members of the church having a role in decision making about use of church resources).
    Discomfort with his responses simply shows that your values are different from those of the institutional church. There are many members whose values match those of the organization, people who stay who have different values than the organization, and people who leave because their values are different. We all have to figure out for ourselves what to do. But I am glad for Bishop Waddell’s comments, which are useful for those trying to figure out how church leaders think and what the church values.

  32. Mortimer says:

    President Hinckley is probably rolling over in his grave after the church’s PR department’s snarky comment about 60 minutes. He worked so hard to build bridges specifically with 60 minutes and came prepared and positive- I’m sure he is facepalming and/or steaming from the ears.

  33. Thank you for taking the time to explain some of the legal nuances to me. I was wondering about whether or not the allegations made were accurate but lack the legal knowledge to make a good judgment.
    I am sorry to say that I also thought Waddell seemed patronizing. Unfortunately, leaders in the Church often are patronizing to other members. Certain explanations for policies are given by someone in authority, then just repeated, whether or not they ever made any sense or actually worked in practice. Pointing this out results in criticism or even threats of Church discipline.
    I consider paying tithing a privilege. I have been blessed through my payment and the extreme faith this sometimes required. I also believe not having that extra money at my disposal has saved me from much of the ridiculous posturing (pride) I witness as people near me crow about the value of their houses and the features on their phones and their cars. Somehow I am supposed to feel envy over a telephone that saves more selfies than mine does. Or a car seat that keeps their bums warm.
    I am afraid I have no sympathy for those who do not want to take their janitorial duties seriously. Suck it up buttercup. Everyone takes their turn, even our attorneys. Then take your over-photographed faces and warmed behinds down to the temple. Covid left us with tens of millions of deceased people on our temple rolls. Zion in the spirit world needs you. And you need to provide about 2,000 new names to familysearch’s tree if you want to do your share. Something easily accomplished in a year. I know that from experience. So grow up, quit whining and stop acting like Prince Harry.

  34. I thought Nielson did a pretty good job and Waddell came off looking a bit sleazy.

    People might remember that even though this was 13 minutes long the CBS reporter did around 3 to four hours of interviews.

    Those interviews were then cut to make the 13 minute segment for the 60 minute show on sunday.

    60 Minutes ( and all of the media) is very good at crafting their segments by leaving out some things to make somthing appear to be what it might not be.

    Nielson might have given excellent answers to all question but the video was cut to make it appear as though he did not.

    Same thing for the awful presentation by Waddell who came off looking like a sweaty small time con man.

    People are now talking about how the GAs hid the money from the Feds and if that was bad or good.

    And every illegal thing that went along with hiding the money, the phoney shell companies, allowing the CEOs of these companies to see only the signature page of documents and makeing them sign them.

    Firing two of these CEOs when they questions this practice and wanted to see all of the documents.

    What is angering so many member now is not just the hiding of the money but the LYING about it to the members for twenty years.

    It seems as if the GAs do not think they must obey the 9th commandment ( or 7th depending on which chapter of the Bible you read).

    They also must missed Proverbs 6:16-19 where we are told the things which are an abomination to the Lord and one of them is “a lying tongue”

    The leaders of the church lie easily and with no guilt, or so it seems.

  35. “I believed my tithing (given with great sacrifice) was going to do good in the world. Instead the church was hording it and hiding it.”

    It’s worth remembering what is not in dispute: that most tithing went to exactly what one would expect–buildings, missionaries, temples, etc. But the church also saved some of that money for a rainy day. And years of rainy-day savings in sensible investments with interest compounding over decades gave it a sizeable nest egg. Reasonable minds can disagree if it let that nest egg get too big, but I think it’s incorrect to say that the widow’s mite has been hoarded entirely–at worst, a small portion was “hoarded.” Which leads me to my second point.

    “I find it fascinating that the church can’t seem to articulate what it needs multiple decades worth of assets for.”

    But can’t you think of any? I can. The growth of the Church in (relatively rich) North America seems to be stagnating, which will match the situation in (relatively rich) Europe. Meanwhile, the church’s growth is much stronger in (relatively poor) South America and Africa. At some point, we won’t be able to run the church as we have if we are spending all the tithing dollars as they come in, because the rich countries won’t be able to support the poor ones.

    Finally, I want to be clear here that much of this seemed like one big unforced error to me by the church, and I think *some* transparency would have resulted in much better outcomes. But I think the reaction I’ve seen since the Nielsen “expose” is kind of demonstrating why I think the church was not excited to disclose: many people I know or have read about stopped paying tithing once they saw how much the church had. People who frankly can’t understand how owning a mall could actually be a prudent investment of tithing dollars; or who aren’t really thinking about the longitudinal needs of a global church. All they see is a lot of money and assume the worst and stop paying.

  36. Loursat says:

    Of course it’s not hard to think of possible uses for the church’s assets, but so what? It’s not anyone’s responsibility but the church’s to explain its plans for the wealth it has accrued.

    The church’s stewardship of wealth, which it gained because of its members’ sacrifice, brings the responsibility to be transparent about what it’s doing with its assets and why. That responsibility isn’t nullified because some people will be less inclined to continue their contributions if they know how large the church’s holdings really are. That just comes with the territory. The only legitimate way to minimize that risk is to make wise decisions with the money and to speak persuasively about why those decisions are right. (It should go without saying, but it probably has to be said: illegally concealing the size and the nature of the assets is so far below the minimum standard of responsible stewardship as to be shameful.)

    The failure to communicate proactively sometimes indicates that a person hasn’t done the private work necessary to solve a problem and answer questions appropriately. I’m not sure whether that’s the case here. It’s possible that church leaders have detailed plans for all that money, and that those plans reflect their sincere, selfless convictions about the future direction of the church. However, their unwillingness to share those plans with the rest of us is a problem. People and organizations alike need feedback to test and regulate their decision-making and avoid catastrophic mistakes. Organizations need openness and honesty to remain cohesive. All of this secrecy is more likely than not to let some nasty, corrosive problems needlessly fester.

  37. Larry Shepherd says:

    Nielson and Waddell tried to explain where the money for charitable contributions comes from without opening themselves to a lawsuit. Ensign Peak administers the assets that never are used for charitable contributions. The church offices administer other accounts that are used for day to day expenses and charitable expenditures. Think about it. Why would you hide assets in 20 shell companies and then use that money on charities that you could never show on your balance sheets? The First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Quorum of the Seventy, are loaded with attorneys.

  38. Is your statement that the church violated securities law based on the SEC report, or your own assessment as a securities lawyer?

  39. Larry, I’m going to try to respond to you, but forgive me if I misunderstand; I’m not sure that I’m following you.

    The church allegedly receives something in the range of $7 billion annually in tithing. It spends about $6 billion of that on operations. The other billion dollars it puts into EPA, which invests that money. The church, according to both Waddell and Nielson, pulls money out of EPA on a regular basis to use for … something. They didn’t say what. (My guess would be salaries; most for-profit businesses put short-term cash into commercial paper, a fairly liquid and fairly secure short-term debt security that they can quickly convert into cash to meet payroll.)

    I don’t know what you mean by “charitable expenditures”; from a legal perspective, essentially everything the church expends money on is a charitable expenditure (because religion fits within the legal category of “charitable”).

    As for the LLCs (or “shell companies”): I’ve written about this elsewhere, but in short, their purpose was to allow EPA to file form 13F with the SEC without the public associating the assets with the church. They didn’t have to worry about the assets showing up or not on their balance sheet because the church has no obligation to make any kind of balance sheet available publicly.

  40. Loursat: “The church’s stewardship of wealth, which it gained because of its members’ sacrifice, brings the responsibility to be transparent about what it’s doing with its assets and why.”

    That was never part of the contract for me. I only committed to pay tithing. I don’t expect the brethren to give me a report on exactly where that money goes.

  41. Loursat says:

    Jack, you are free to believe that. For myself, I believe that people who take that attitude neglect their responsibility to the community of the saints. For most of our history, church leaders have been frank about the condition of the church in good times and bad ones. It is only relatively recently that leaders have become secretive about the church’s temporal affairs.

    Of course, history teaches us that there are some practices church leaders have hidden. That never turned out well. We ought to learn from our history in those matters.

    Expecting to be kept ignorant is not compatible with faithfully sustaining our leaders. The church needs sunlight to prosper. That’s how healthy organizations work. Sunlight, information and accountability make it possible to have confidence in leadership. Secrecy fosters weakness and rot.

  42. A Poor Wayfaring Stranger says:

    Jack, are you aware that humble bragging and a “Let me demonstrate just how wrong/heretical you are and how much more correct and righteous I am than you.” attitude when making your point(s) on this and other blogs is definitely NOT the way to win friends and influence people? Each and every one of us who reads and/or comments here at BCC is entitled to have our own religious beliefs and opinions treated in a respectful manner, even when they disagree with yours. I really DO enjoy reading what other folks have to say on this and many other topics related to the church. While I may not always agree with some of the perspectives/points of view/comments presented here I greatly enjoy seeing the topic du jour discussed from various perspectives. Regardless of the topic I always learn something new which is why I enjoy reading BCC posts.

    What I don’t enjoy is your constant need to show the rest of us “the error of our ways” and then hit us over the head again and again with your own “superior” knowledge and the “one and only true and righteous” point of view. Repeatedly haranguing the rest of the commenters any time they say something that remotely offends you not only drives the Spirit away, but it also often prematurely ends what had been an excellent discussion up until your first comment. I don’t think that you do this purposely in order to hijack the conversation (or at least I hope that you don’t). However, that is often the result. Would it be possible for you to give the rest of us the benefit of the doubt when we disagree with each other during these online discussions and to politely respect our differences of opinion? I, for one, would very much enjoy being able to freely engage with you and the other people who visit this and other blog sites in important discussions about the church knowing that that courtesy would be extended on both sides. As children of our Heavenly Parents it is incumbent upon all of us to remember the Savior’s injunction that we love one another as we love Them. It would be gratefully appreciated.

    (I realize that this comment will most likely not be posted here. That’s perfectly fine with me. I decided to visit BCC this evening for some spiritual uplift and intellectual stimulation. For the reasons I have already stated above the discussion here quickly devolved into something other than what I sought. After biting my tongue one too many times here on the Bloggernacle, rather than go off on a rip roaring rant with regard to certain commenters’ comments I decided that I had to speak my truth let the consequences follow.

  43. Jack, I am (truly) happy for you that you’re willing to make contributions without concern for how the money is used (though I actually suspect that’s not the case—I suspect, instead, that you believe the church won’t misuse the money). There are definitely people who agree with you.

    But the thing is, I also suspect that the number of people who will unconditionally accept that the church is doing the right thing with its money is lower than the number of people the church needs to function long-term. And I’m entirely sure it’s lower than the number of people that the church wants to reach.

    And even if the church were just looking for money (which I assume you agree with me it is not), a significant portion of American (and, I suspect, worldwide) donors look to make sure their charitable donations make some sort of measurable impact.

    Because no, it’s not our money after we donate it. But it is before we do. Moreover, as members of the church, we’re stakeholders in the church and its mission. The church is hierarchical, yes, but nonetheless should take stakeholder values and preferences into account.

    So saying, “I trust the church to do the right thing with my donations” is a fine personal position to take. That’s great; good for you! But asserting it as your normative position (“everybody should just trust the church”) is unrealistic and, in the long term, probably harmful to the church.

    Also, it has absolutely nothing to do with the post, which is about the 60 Minutes segment. And, while you and I as members of the church may trust church leaders to use the money well, there is absolutely no reason people outside of the church should.

  44. J. Mansfield says:

    A precedent that the church uses in teaching members to tithe is the case of Abraham and Melchizedek, and some of us take that to mean that there is an element of the tithing relationship that doesn’t have anything to do with how the recipient employs the received tithes but is more a form of feudal-like homage to a lord. It is also a teaching of the church that the tithes that it receives are used to further the work of the church.

    It is kind of nice that our financial scandal is that the church received more tithes than it used for ongoing operations and then . . . just hid it. It sounds like something one of those satirists would come up with joking about how Mormon-y the Mormons are. “Where did the money go? Racehorses? Sports cars and luxury vacations? Cocaine? It didn’t go ANYWHERE. It’s still just sitting there collecting interest. Mormons are so nice and boring even their scandals are tame and bland.”

    I feel the widow and her mite get brought into this in kind of dumb ways. When Jesus said she gave more than the rest, that didn’t mean that the coins in the box all transmuted into widows’ mites. President Hinckley once said regarding the church’s finances that its only real wealth is the members’ faith, and on that ledger the poor widows who give their all put the church in the black, but in the narrow matter of investment funds with assets whose value is measured in dollars, the widows’ mites don’t add much to their dollar value. On the other hand, Hinckley said it- was important to remind himself of the widows’ mites when managing the church’s money.

    And to round out my musings, did anyone else think of the husband and wife in My Mother’s Castle disclosing to one another in a time of trouble the savings each had secretly set aside? It’s a very sweet, tender scene.

  45. J. Mansfeld, that might make sense if church leaders didn’t literally exhort members, in conference talks and other settings, to pay tithing before they paid for food or shelter for their children. It might be fine if tithing policy and what was asked of the poorest members had not quietly changed over the decades. It might be okay if the Lorenzo Snow were quoted in its entirety where he basically said that members who could not afford to pay tithing were not asked to do so.

    Asking parents to pay tithing when it may leave them with insufficient funds to pay for food, housing, or medical care seems to me to be tantamount to asking parents to neglect their children which is a crime in many countries. Of course we like to hope that blessings will come to those who take the risk, exhibit “faith” and pay their tithing anyway, and in some cases those families will qualify for fast offering funds, but it is no guarantee and many families report that it is not sufficient (I place faith in quotation marks because I do still believe faith is important, but I believe in an informed faith, not equating faith with magical thinking). Church leaders asking members to pay tithing when it may mean they end up without enough money for food, shelter, medical care, or funds in their later years is something that causes grave concern to me.

    We may be interpreting the often-quoted Malachi scripture and the story of the widow’s mite backwards where it is the church officials that are being condemned or reprimanded. Not the humble members doing their best to just survive in face of oppressive forces both outside and unfortunately sometimes within the church. The issue about concealing church resources being a nothing burger is only the case for those members who have privilege. For many member it is a real and present concern.

  46. Mortimer says:


    Why would you assume that the reporters from 60 minutes misrepresented Waddell? What is your evidence for such an accusation? Here’s the thing. If 60 Minutes applied journalistic integrity (and I assert hey did), you are bearing false witness against your neighbor. So, what is your evidence that on the cutting room floor, they snipped out all or even one of his amazing rebuttals and left us only with the multiple times he stumbled? Were you there? Did you watch the editing process? What was the rest of his argument that you assert they misrepresented? If you don’t know, if you don’t have concrete evidence, you are bearing false witness.

    You can’t stereotype all journalists as evil or duplicitous. There are journalists who dedicate their lives to the highest journalistic ethics and bring integrity and honor to the profession and the world. President Hinckley worked with this program specifically because it was a respected, open-minded, and balanced program. This is a program with a history of positive coverage of LDS perspectives, even through the Mormon moment. There are still trusted journalists and news programs, and I find it galling that you are discrediting this specific program. Some journalists have laid down their lives, suffered torture and imprisonment (especially in lands without free speech), receive ridicule and personal consequences in the pursuit of this ideally noble discipline. I’ve seen young aspirational journalism majors, knowing these potential costs, nonetheless bravely accept the risk in order to answer a personal professional calling and change the world for the better. I’ve also attended funerals of old unfaltering writers whose lives typified the highest examples of the trade. I’ve personally worked in fact-checking alongside cracker-Jack reporters who put attorneys, physicians, detectives, librarians, and academics to shame with their rigorous research skills and perseverance. Seriously- there are some amazing journalists out there who crack stories because they doggedly pursue facts and research stories for years and even decades.

    I have zero patience for people who prejudicially categorize all journalists as lying paparazzi. Zero.

    So again, you’ve made a serious allegation- one that in certain contexts could be liable. What is your evidence?

    The assertion of the author of this post and several commenters, was that Waddell simply flubbed this interview by coming unprepared, approaching it pridefully and with privilege, and being in a less defensible place. 60 minutes gave equal attention to the church, and afforded them ample opportunity to state their case. “We” own this, we flubbed it, and we need to learn from it and make improvements. The victim mentality of “oh boo hoo poor us- everyone is always picking on us” doesn’t hold up. Yes, we are (according to Pew research) pretty well disliked, but that doesn’t mean we were in this case, treated prejudicially by 60 minutes, our long-time balanced ally. The time and platform they gave us, the honest questions, and sincere attempt to get to the bottom of a newsworthy story is evidence to the contrary. The church’s response post-airing said nothing about an unfair characterization of Waddell’s interview, likely because that wouldn’t have been defensible.

  47. J. Mansfield, it is also hard for me to think that we might be encouraging support for feudalism. I thought that most of us welcomed a departure centuries ago from systems of feudal-lord relationships and the oppression that it so often entailed.

    I have not watched “My Mother’s Castle.” But it is hard for me to envision a moving movie scene where both partners reveled secret savings if the funds had been accumulated at the cost of starving children or withholding needed medical care. Malnutrition has real costs in the physical and emotional health of many malnourished children. Substandard housing can also have such costs. Yes, we hear great stories of people who rose above their humble circumstances, but there are a lot of truly tragic stories that don’t get told. Digging deeper causes me to rethink some concepts I had accepted without challenge.

  48. Wow its been a long time since I commented on BBC or anywhere in the bloggernacle. I enjoyed the thoughtful, knowledgable OP (as always with Sam on these topics). Here are my thoughts as an affable post-mormon that has lost trust in the church’s hierarchy to steer an institution and people I genuinely like in broad-tent, moral direction.

    This whole thing may be a blessing to the church that its breaking now and I hope good journalists, principled whistleblowers and the like continue to hold the church accountable when no one else is, even if its just for its own good. As noted by another commenter – compound interest is amazing and when you have world-class money men (and lets be honest they are probably 98% men at Ensign Peak) managing it, its going to be that much more amazing. Forget the 1960s, the whole EP thing didn’t start until 1997 and was seeded with $7B in assets. So lets take the church at its word and say it was socking away $1B each year from tithing overflow. That is then $26B more over 26 years plus the initial $7B. That means they have grown $33B in assets to somewhere in the mid $150B in just 20 years. And most the growth happened in the 2010s and beyond (see compound interest/investments). So what is $150B today is about to turn into a whole lot more at an *accelerating* pace. Today the church could almost (if it wanted to) pay their $6B in operating expenses out of conservative investment return ($6B/$120B = 5%) *interest* from their assets. *In ten more years* that $150B number is likely going to look small. And keep in mind EP is mostly financial securities. It doesn’t include the value of church’s vast land holding (an not counting its church’s/temples etc. but fungible investment real estate it holds like a shocking percent of Florida).

    If the church continues to have a complete lack of moral imagination about how to use its wealth the pressure from members and others is only going to grow and it should. I think you could argue that right now the piggy bank is defensible within normal non-profit bounds (see Nate Oman’s take) but the church is just years away from that being utterly indefensible. And from what I can see, I have no confidence that there is the imagination, will, orientation or desire to prepare for that day. Instead, if seems that they are trying to hold it off through secrecy to the point of toeing and crossing over the line of legality.

    I hope the church leadership gets a moral imagination.

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