With all of the recent media coverage on Mitt Romney's focus on money - can we say greed? - and secretive financial transactions, the timing of a new Bloomber Businessweek article on how Mormons and the Mormon Church make money is perfect. The net impression is that Mitt Romney comes by his secrecy and unrelenting focus on making a buck as a matter of religious upbringing. As the article states, the Mormon Church sees no distinction between spirituality and making money - as much money as possible. And like Mitt Romney who doesn't miss a chance to avoid paying taxes, the Mormon Church gets a lot of tax sheltering (not to mention competitive advantages against for-profit businesses) for its commercial enterprises via its tax exempt status as a church. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Mitt Romney was once a Stake President in the LDS church - making him the lay Mormon equivalent of a church figure in charge of a diocese. Here are some article excerpts:
Late last March the Mormon Church completed an ambitious project: a megamall. Built for roughly $2 billion, the City Creek Center stands directly across the street from the church’s iconic, neo-Gothic temple in Salt Lake City. The mall includes a retractable glass roof, 5,000 underground parking spots, and nearly 100 stores and restaurants, ranging from Tiffany’s (TIF) to Forever 21. Walkways link the open-air emporium with the church’s perfectly manicured headquarters on Temple Square.Watching a religious leader celebrate a mall may seem surreal, but City Creek reflects the spirit of enterprise that animates modern-day Mormonism. The mall is part of a vast church-owned corporate empire that the Mormon leadership says will help spread its message, increase economic self-reliance, and build the Kingdom of God on earth. “It’s perhaps unsurprising that Mormonism, an indigenous American religion, would also adopt the country’s secular faith in money. What is remarkable is how varied the church’s business interests are—and, at a time when a former Mormon bishop is about to receive the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, that so little is known about the church’s financial interests.[S]ays historian D. Michael Quinn, who is working on a book about the LDS Church’s finances and businesses, “The Mormon Church is very different than any other church. … Traditional Christianity and Judaism make a clear distinction between what is spiritual and what is temporal, while Mormon theology specifically denies that there is such a distinction.” To Latter-day Saints, opening megamalls, running a Polynesian theme park, and operating a billion-dollar media and insurance empire are all part of doing God’s work. Says Quinn: “In the Mormon worldview, it’s as spiritual to give alms to the poor, as the old phrase goes in the Biblical sense, as it is to make a million dollars.”
Mormons make up only 1.4 percent of the U.S. population, but the church’s holdings are vast.First among its for-profit enterprises is DMC, which reaps estimated annual revenues of $1.2 billion from six subsidiaries, according to the business information and analysis firm Hoover’s Company Records (DNB). Those subsidiaries run a newspaper, 11 radio stations, a TV station, a publishing and distribution company, a digital media company, a hospitality business, and an insurance business with assets worth $3.3 billion.AgReserves, another for-profit Mormon umbrella company, together with other church-run agricultural affiliates, reportedly owns roughly 1 million acres in the continental U.S., on which the church has farms, hunting preserves, orchards, and ranchesAs a religious organization, the LDS Church enjoys several tax advantages. Like other churches, it is often exempt from paying taxes on the real estate properties it leases out, even to commercial entities, says tax lawyer David Miller, who is not Mormon. The church also doesn’t pay taxes on donated funds and holdings. Romney and others at Bain Capital, the private-equity firm co-founded by Romney in 1984, gave the Mormon Church millions’ worth of stock holdings obtained through Bain deals, according to Reuters.According to U.S. law, religions have no obligation to open their books to the public, and the LDS Church officially stopped reporting any finances in the early 1960s. In 1997 an investigation by Time used cross-religious comparisons and internal information to estimate the church’s total value at $30 billion. . . . . a recent investigation by Reuters in collaboration with sociology professor Cragun estimates that the LDS Church is likely worth $40 billion today and collects up to $8 billion in tithing each year.Many Mormons see their church’s economic success as a sign of good stewardship, but at least a few I spoke to say they are uneasy about the price tag of the new Mormon mall, the church’s lack of transparency, and its centralized finances. “The money may be perfectly administered, for all we know,” says Ron Madson, 57, a lawyer and lifelong Mormon who once served as a church bishop. “But we don’t know. … When we see these expenses for the City Creek Mall, for the hunting preserves, these commercial enterprises, Ensign Peak, we don’t know where it’s going.”A recently published article co-written by Cragun estimates that the Mormon Church donates only about 0.7 percent of its annual income to charity; the United Methodist Church gives about 29 percent.
There's a lot more, but these excerpts give readers the drift of the article. Huge inflows of money and small charitable outflows. Much like Mitt and Ann Romney's finances - or so it would seem since they refuse to release their tax returns which might show that they value something other than making and hanging onto lots and lots of money.