How the latest data on LDS Church land holdings was released

Latter-day Saint tithe-payers “should know where that money is going,” says the co-founder of the Truth & Transparency Foundation.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Administration Building of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Wednesday, March 30, 2022.

How did a nonprofit with a small budget compile data on an empire of nearly $16 billion in US properties owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

the Truth and Transparency Foundation, formerly called MormonLeaks, is about religious accountability, its co-founders say. Many of his past exposes, including stories based on internal church documents and videos, were taken from leaks.

On this one, Ryan McKnight and Ethan Dodge said they themselves initiated research into church land holdings and worked for nearly two years to obtain and refine their findings from public records.

This aligned with many of the sunlight foundation’s emphasis on church policymaking and finances as well as previous reports they had made regarding other faith investments, McKnight said. , which is based in Las Vegas.

“For an organization like the Mormon Church,” he said, “being open and honest about its assets is an important part of transparency. In that vein, it was important for us to try to document their land holdings as best we could.”

Although the database is made public for everyone, McKnight said, Latter-day Saints themselves are the most important audience.

“When someone pulls out their checkbook to write a check to pay their tithing,” McKnight said, “I strongly believe they should be told where that money is going.”

Dodge, based in San Jose, Calif., added that the church’s secrecy over its finances fears public knowledge could affect tithing – as reported in ‘The Wall Street Journal’ – seemed “somewhat misleading, an abuse of power.

“Good journalism,” he said, “is about holding power to account.”

Their church land database, released on Tuesday, was put together by a private commercial provider called Economy, based in New York. McKnight and Dodge amassed raw data through queries as part of a basic subscription to the service in 2020. They searched millions of US county property records.

[Read more: The Truth & Transparency Foundation is shutting down]

While this is undoubtedly an undercount of the Utah-based religion’s total U.S. holdings, the database pulled property records from real estate companies and business corporations. church such as Property Reserve, Suburban Land Reserve and Farmland Reserve, as well as the religious society named Corporation of the Presiding. Bishop.

The foundation then used Reonomy to correlate these with slews of other documents, including tax information linking properties to Salt Lake City and networks of church administrators and senior property managers.

McKnight and Dodge said they were forced to shelve research shortly after collecting the data in March 2020, amid pandemic disruptions and the loss of their day jobs.

(Courtesy photos) Ryan McKnight and Ethan Gregory Dodge, co-founders of the Truth & Transparency Foundation, formerly known as MormonLeaks, a nonprofit dedicated to religious accountability through impact journalism. The co-founders announced on Monday April 4, 2022 that the group would close its doors.

Yet they persisted. Parts of the data covering the most expensive properties and a randomly selected subset were then audited and verified.

The Salt Lake Tribune also conducted hundreds of spot checks of properties on the list, confirming ownership of religious businesses. Still, the newspaper found major omissions, which the foundation acknowledged.

The Chicago Temple of Faith and several other American temples are missing, for example, as are other known sites not considered in the group’s queries. And about 15% of the plots, totaling just under 25,000 acres, have no value attached.

The database also omits any ownership of single-family homes.

This information was not included in the original data extracted from Reonomy, McKnight said, although the church owns such properties.

The Truth and Transparency Foundation is confident in its findings, revealing 1.7 million acres and nearly 16,000 properties held by the church, spread across the country.

McKnight and Dodge said the foundation hopes online users will dig deeper into the finer details of the register and that the database – complete with searchable maps – will prove to be a resource for journalists, researchers and those interested in church finances.

[You can search for U.S. properties owned by the LDS Church here. Find properties on a map here or here.]

Jerry B. Hatch