Daystar's broadcast complex and corporate jet together valued at $9.5 million would be subject to property taxes in Texas if the ministry were a for-profit business. But it's exempt because of its status as a church.
According to court records, Daystar's primary revenue comes from selling airtime to other religious programmers. Its secondary income is donations. The documents show that between 2005 and 2011, Daystar took in $208 million in tax-deductible contributions from viewers through on-air pitches.
Daystar has built a public image as a generous giver to charitable causes. Indeed, the network has contributed millions of dollars to a trauma center and a home for Holocaust survivors in Israel, a hospital in Calcutta, and to ministries that support women in Moldova and children in Uganda.
Lamb trumpeted those donations in a 2009 sermon in Australia: "In the last five years, Daystar has written checks of donations to others, to ministries, to churches, to missions, to hurricane relief, to tsunami relief, to hospitals, etc., to the tune of $30 million cash!"
NPR analyzed six years of Daystar balance sheets. They show the network gave away $9.7 million dollars in direct grants to outside recipients. Not $30 million. That works out to charitable giving of about 5 percent of donor revenue.
"My concern is the disconnect between what Daystar asks that the money be used for and how they actually use it," says Daniel Borochoff, president of CharityWatch.org, a nonprofit charity evaluator based in Chicago. Borochoff estimates he's examined more than 100,000 nonprofits in his 25 years doing this kind of work. NPR sent him Daystar documents and asked him to assess the network's charitable giving.
"Daystar needs to tell people that only about 5 percent of their contributions are going toward hospitals, churches, needy individuals," he says.
In its letter, Daystar explains the discrepancy by saying the majority of viewer contributions actually pays for the costs of foreign satellite transmissions, which the network considers its "international mission work."
To see where the actual cash donations go, NPR examined six years of network giving and found that some of the money goes to family interests and ministry expenses.
According to court records, Daystar gave:
*$433,000 of tax-deductible viewer donations to Oral Roberts University, mostly during years when the three Lamb children were enrolled there.
*$53,683 to Lake Country Christian School, the high school the Lamb children attended.
*$296,091 to Gateway Church, the Lambs' family church.
*$32,200 to Family Restoration Network, Christian marriage counselors who Marcus and Joni claim saved their marriage.
*$24,026 to Lamb's alma mater, Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn.
*$21,879 to Lynn Haven Nursing Home in Gray, Ga., where Marcus' father lived before he died.`
Other donations of tax-deductible viewer contributions include $60,000 to Israeli lawyers who helped Daystar get a cable television contract, according to the publisher of Teva Ha'Dvarim Magazine, who acted as an intermediary; $23,674 for a ministry trip to Asia; $60,000 in payments to "Daystar and Daystar Remotes"; and $30,000 to the First Baptist Church of Orlando at a time when the pastor was helping Daystar buy a local educational TV station, according to Daystar documents filed with the 193rd Judicial District Court in Dallas County.
Moreover, evangelists who bought airtime on Daystar or appeared as guests on the network received more than $500,000. Of that sum, $92,000 went to the Rev. T.L. Lowery and his foundation, on whose board of directors Lamb sits.
Daystar spent nondonation ministry income on expenses that included $572,154 in sponsorship and expenses for a Christian NASCAR driver named Blake Koch; a $2.3 million loan to the Rev. Frank Harber, Lamb's former special assistant and golfing buddy, to start a church that defaulted on the loan; and $97,320 spent at retail bookstores to buy up copies of Joni Lamb's autobiography, Surrender All, helping to drive it onto a best-sellers list. Daystar says the books were given away as premiums to donors.