Nov 2, 2022 - News

LDS Church finances are under scrutiny abroad

The spires of the Salt Lake City temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appear in front of a blue sky.

The spires of the historic Salt Lake Temple. Photo: George Frey/Getty Images

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has drastically overstated its charitable giving, according to an investigation by Canadian and Australian media outlets.

Driving the news: In its public statements, the church has claimed more than $1 billion in charitable giving, the investigation found.

Yes, but: The church's charity arm, Latter-day Saint Charities, gave just $177 million from 2008 to 2020, according to financial records obtained by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, 60 Minutes, and the CBC.

Details: Other findings have raised legal concerns in Australia, where religious donations are not tax-exempt, but charitable donations are.

  • Donations to the church still get tax exemption because it routes its Australian contributions through a charitable trust.
  • That means most of the charitable aid claimed globally by the church appears to come from Australia, which only accounts for a small portion of the church's members, The Herald and The Age reported in April.
  • The financial documents show the church's global charities — including the one in Australia — are based in Utah, which could violate tax rules that require tax-deductible charitable donations to be managed in the country, The Age reported this week.

Meanwhile: Some Canadian members and charity watchers are criticizing the church for moving more than $1 billion in tax-exempt donations across the border to BYU campuses in Provo, Idaho and Hawaii.

  • It's legal but exceptional; the BYU locations get as much funding in tax-free Canadian donations as do all the Ivy League schools combined, the CBC found.

What they're saying: The church's tax exemption "is taking away governments' ability to fund … essential services," said member Nigel Kennett, an accountant who alerted the CBC to the volume of Canadian money going to the BYUs. "It's done little to benefit the people here, and it has done everything … to fill the coffers in Salt Lake."

  • Church spokespeople did not answer questions about the discrepancy between the charitable spending it claimed and the amounts in the charity's accounts, The Herald reported.
  • But the church said Australia's charity is run by volunteers there and noted that its Canadian tax exemption "is both legitimate and well-known."

What's next: Political leaders there have called for an investigation into the church's donations.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Salt Lake City.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Salt Lake City stories

No stories could be found

Salt Lake Citypostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Salt Lake City.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more