Mormon Church Investment Fund Had Nearly $38 Billion

Associated Press/March 7, 2020

Salt Lake City -- The Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-day Saints' largest investment fund had nearly $38 billion in stocks and mutual funds at the end of 2019, according to a filing that sheds new light on the faith's finances.

The fund called Ensign Peak Advisors submitted a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Feb. 14 disclosing its holdings, which include $1.5 billion each in Apple and Microsoft, the Salt Lake Tribune reported Saturday.

The church also owned $930 million in Google stock and $855 million in Amazon.

The SEC filing is standard for institutional investment managers with assets of at least $100 million but while the church has met that threshold for years, the SEC website does not show any earlier filings by Ensign Peak Advisors. A church spokesman declined to answer questions about why the recent filing was made, the Tribune reported.

The filing does not include all the church's financial holdings and the church is not required to report investments in property or private companies. Ensign Peak Advisors is just one of the church's investment firms, said church historian D. Michael Quinn.

“It's great detail that we haven't had before,” Quinn said. “But it's only part of the picture.”

The filing comes after a former church investment manager, David Nielsen, said he filed a complaint with the IRS in November alleging the church has improperly built a $100 billion investment portfolio using member donations that are supposed to go to charitable causes. He argues the church owes billions of dollars in taxes and he wants a cut of that as part of a reward the IRS offers whistleblowers.

The IRS has said federal tax laws do not allow it to confirm or discuss any complaints.

After Nielsen went public with his allegation, church officials defended how they use and invest member donations. The vast majority of member donations are used to fund church operations, temples, missions, education and humanitarian needs while another portion is “methodically safeguarded through wise financial management and the building of a prudent reserve for the future,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement in December.

Quinn estimated in a book published in 2018 that the religion, widely known as the Mormon church, brought in $33 billion in member contributions and an additional $15 billion from its for-profit businesses in 2010. Much of that money is likely spent to operate church buildings, temples and programs, he said.

Ensign is registered as a supporting organization and integrated auxiliary of the church, allowing it to operate as a nonprofit and to mostly make money tax-free as long as it operates only for religious, education or charitable purposes. Nielsen alleges the church hasn't directly funded those three categories in more than two decades.

The allegations, first reported by the Washington Post, brought new attention to the church's finances that faith leaders have long declined to discuss publicly, fueling widespread speculation. The church's members worldwide are encouraged to give 10% of their income to the church in what is known as tithing.

The church uses the money donated through tithing to run its operations and sends the excess to Ensign Peak Advisors to invest, the Tribune reported.

The church said last year that it has provided $2.2 billion worth of assistance to 197 countries since 1985, including cash, commodities and in-kind donations.

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