Charity questions evangelical event's role

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram/January 30, 2008

Little Rock, Arkansas - A Christian nonprofit said a Texas evangelist targeted by a Senate investigation turned a national ministers' gathering last week into a fundraising opportunity for Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign.

The Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, a charity that monitors televangelists and viewed a live Internet broadcast of the event, said the fundraiser took in $111,000 and generated pledges nearing $1 million.

The fundraiser, which was first reported Tuesday by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in a copyright story, was held at Kenneth Copeland Ministries' campus in Newark.

"If his action isn't illegal under the IRS code, it certainly strains all sense of ethics," said Ole Anthony, the foundation's president. The group cited IRS code prohibiting church leaders from making partisan comments in official organization publications or at official church functions.

Russ Florence of Tulsa, Okla., a spokesman for Copeland, said in a statement that the event did not amount to an endorsement of Huckabee by Kenneth Copeland Ministries. He said that Huckabee's campaign rented one of the rooms after the ministers' conference and that Kenneth Copeland Ministries did not make a contribution to Huckabee's campaign.

"No offering was or has been taken for any political candidate by Kenneth Copeland Ministries or at a KCM event," Florence said.

Huckabee campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart said she could not confirm the amount raised but said that Huckabee and Copeland spoke by phone last week. The former Arkansas governor is also an ordained Southern Baptist minister.

"Basically, Kenneth Copeland simply asked him how he could pray for him, and the governor asked him to pray for physical stamina for the team and the financial resources that they need each day," she said. "I'm not sure who called who."

Huckabee's campaign released a statement saying it rented a room for "a separate event that was hosted by a private individual" and was not affiliated with Copeland's ministry. The campaign said the event conformed with campaign finance laws and tax regulations.

The Trinity Foundation is helping in a Senate investigation, headed by Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. Grassley began the probe into spending by Christian television ministries last year. Texas-based faith healer Benny Hinn is included in the investigation.

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