At least they are doing something in the USA. Tax exempt status is a privilege we all pay for and needs greater scrutiny, especially with the influx of overseas organisations lining up to fleece the gullible. Senate investigates lifestyles of the rich and pious Anne Davies Herald Correspondent in Washington November 9, 2007 LUXURY cars, corporate jets, huge salaries and oceanside condominiums. It sounds more like the trappings of Hollywood than of those who claim to serve the Lord. In a highly controversial move, which has raised issues about the separation of church and state, a Senate committee has announced plans for an inquiry into the financial workings of six well-known evangelical churches after concerns were raised about the lavish lifestyles of their founders and whether these were being built on tax-exempt proceeds from their donors. At least three of the churches under investigation have a presence in Australia, mostly in Queensland. The inquiry is being driven not by the Democrats but by a Republican on the Senate finance committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who has made scrutiny of these mega-churches part of his brief. On Monday he faxed letters to a half-dozen evangelical mega-ministries requesting information about salaries, board oversight and perquisites, which appear to include luxury oceanside homes, flights on private jets and opulent office furniture. "I'm following up complaints from the public and news coverage regarding certain practices at six ministries," Senator Grassley said. "It's part of my long-standing interest in making sure tax-exempt organisations are accountable." The six ministries share features: they have a Pentecostal theology, attract 10,000-strong congregations, have a big television presence and preach a "prosperity gospel" message emphasising material rewards for the faithful. The ministries are: Randy and Paula White of the Without Walls International Church, of Tampa, Florida; Benny Hinn of World Healing Centre Church Inc in Grapevine, Texas; David and Joyce Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries in Fenton, Montana; Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Newark, Texas; Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia; and Creflo Dollar Ministries of College Park, Georgia. Benny Hinn has toured Australia several times and is known for his flamboyant, highly theatrical style of ministry, which includes televised faith healings and mass spiritual "slayings". He has a post office box in Mansfield, on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. Curiously, Joyce Meyer's ministry is also based at a post office box in Mansfield, Queensland. Creflo reports that it has an office at Unit 1, Olympic Circuit, Southport, Queensland, while the Copelands have an Australia/Asia/Pacific website. The Copelands visited Australia for seven days last year as part of a mission through the South Pacific. They were aboard their $20 million Cessna Citation jet, bought after an appeal to their congregation to allow them to spread the word further afield. The US tax agency requires that pastors' compensation be "reasonable", a figure set by collecting comparable salaries and weighing factors such as church size and a pastor's value to the congregation. Internal Revenue Service rules prevent pastors and other insiders from excessive personal gain through their tax-exempt work. Creflo Dollar said the inquiry could affect "the privacy of every community church in America".