Churches And Politicians Lie To People To Get Money When For Anyone Else, That Would Be Fraud

Churches And Politicians Lie To People To Get Money When For Anyone Else, That Would Be Fraud
Mar 2023

Churches And Politicians Lie To People To Get Money When For Anyone Else, That Would Be Fraud
Believe it or not, I was an altar boy for many years (they now call them "altar servers" and girls can do it too -- hey, even the Catholic Church progresses somewhat over time). However, unless you count going into the woods to kill my own food as a form of pagan nature worship (which I sort of do), I am not very religious these days.

Which is among the reasons it perturbed me to hear that my parents, who still attend the same church I was brought up in, were being hit up by the priest to help fund an $8 million building project to connect a couple of already existing buildings on the church's already too-large campus. The whole population of the town is only about 3,000, and that figure represents many people of many different faiths (or no faith at all) along with a bunch of income-less children, and it's not a particularly successful community economically. But let's pretend for a moment that 3,000 people there did come up with $2,000 apiece and gave it to the church for this project: there would nonetheless be a $2 million shortfall.

Not that that would stop the church from keeping whatever money was collected, I'm sure. My folks gave a rather generous donation for some other theoretical project not that long ago which never materialized. Of course, this supposedly earmarked money was never returned to them.

Kind of has a ring of the "Build the Wall" scams, doesn't it? At least a few criminal charges resulted from that debacle. Might even wind up being a real legal problem for Steve Bannon.

Even so, more typical political types routinely get away with the rhetorical equivalent of murder when it comes to lying to people to get their money. I somehow wound up on the Tom Emmer mailing list and haven't found an unsubscribe link yet or been able to get anyone to respond to my reply emails asking to be removed. At least there is some entertainment value in it. According to this Republican House member, scary Democrats like me are coming to inflict some truly alarming things on constituents if he cannot practically single-handedly hold back the onrushing tide of volcanic wokeness.

Emmer is far from alone on this sort of thing. Extreme hyperbole has been widely used as a fundraising tool across the entire political spectrum. That being said, deceptive fundraising tactics, with the proceeds not necessarily being judiciously applied to whatever the solicitor was saying they'd be applied to, have been far more associated with the political right in recent years.

Free speech is obviously important. But free speech does not mean you can say anything you want at any time without consequence. You may not incite violence through speech, for instance, or lie to obtain something of value.

The exact elements of a fraud cause of action vary by jurisdiction. Generally, though, fraud involves an intentional or negligent factual misrepresentation, reasonable reliance by the victim on the untruthful statement, and harm because of the reliance (in other words, losing money).

There are all kinds of exceptions to liability for fraud -- like opinions, as opposed to representations of fact, generally not giving rise to actionable fraud. Churches and politicians are usually careful enough with misleading statements to avoid language to the effect of, "You give me X amount of dollars and in return I will give you Y specific deliverables." Still, regardless of how carefully phrased, the real-world impact of a lot of these sorts of statements is that something that is ultimately untrue is told to people in order to induce them to turn over their money.

In addition to freedom of speech, we also have the free exercise of religion in this country. I don't even want to get into the scam which can basically be summed up as give the church money and God will reward you in this life or the next in return (many religious groups do express abhorrence to the voicing of such a direct quid pro quo, though their adherents probably aren't turning down too many donations either or being any less assured of the righteousness of their own particular beliefs).

But if I, as a private citizen, told you I was raising funds for a community center then decided to buy myself a jet ski with your donation instead, well, I'd be in trouble for committing fraud. Yet many of our supposed moral and political leaders do a pretty similar thing all the time as a matter of course.

This flavor of misrepresentation by churches and politicians is not going to be prosecuted. So, if you have loved ones who are getting a bit older, try to keep an eye on things. More than 5.4% of older Americans fall victim to some sort of financial fraud or scam every year. I bet that number would be a whole lot higher if it included slightly more subtle forms of exploitation, like donations obtained under false -- albeit artfully false -- pretenses.

Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn't want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at jon_wolf@hotmail.com.