Many people have noticed that there are two sides to Vision Forum: the ministry side, which is a 501c3; and the business side, which is where most of the money is made. This is a convenient way to have the best of both worlds: the tax advantages of being able to collect lots of free money without having to pay taxes; and the freedom to have the opportunity to make even more money by selling products at a profit. Neither one is wrong, and I am not against anyone making money legitimately. If Doug Phillips has earned money, then he should be entitled to it. But this type of tax structuring presents a few problems today.
Vision Forum Ministries is the ministry side of Vision Forum. This is the side that takes donations, puts on events, and through which Doug Phillips schedules all his speaking engagements. Vision Forum Ministries has six officers; Doug Phillips has always been the President, and until recently, Howard Phillips, Doug’s father, was the Vice President. I do not know if he has been replaced yet. That leaves two directors, Don Hart and Scott Brown, and the CFO (Josh Wean) and Secretary (Jim Zes).
Vision Forum, Inc. is the retail store of Vision Forum. This is the side where Doug Phillips has his blog and he sells all his products. The owner of Vision Forum, Inc. is Doug Phillips. As owner, there is nothing to step down from. The owner has 100% sole discretion as to what to do with the income earned from the business. Since this is a private business, I do not have any real numbers to work with, but after salaries and expenses are paid, it is certainly Doug Phillips’ decision as to what happens to the rest of that money. I see that they changed the name of Doug’s blog to “Vision Forum Blog” today, but don’t be fooled — Doug Phillips is still the sole owner of Vision Forum, Inc.
As President of Vision Forum Ministries, Doug Phillips took home $44,035 in 2011, the latest tax record on file. The Form 990 also states that he earned $24,254 in related income (speaker honorariums?) and that he worked about 30 hours a week on the ministry side. But that does not accurately represent Doug Phillips’ total income.
Some ministries have a “parsonage” for the minister and his family to live in, and Vision Forum Ministries is no exception. Vision Forum Ministries owns two buildings in San Antonio: the Vision Forum office/warehouse building and the Phillips’ family home. Doug Phillips and his family live in a very nice 6000 square foot home. To be fair, they have been very hospitable and opened their home for many church and ministry functions. I have many good memories there.
But that parsonage is a huge amount of Doug Phillips’ “income” from Vision Forum Ministries. It is considered part of his salary, and is a tax-free benefit. Since Doug Phillips maintains a large home office there as well, he may write off his office on his personal income taxes as well. I do not know who pays the utilities, but I do know that the ministry side owns this house. When a pastor leaves a church for any reason, it is usually stated in their contract how long they have to leave the parsonage, if provided, after they are no longer connected with the ministry. This is usually 30, 60, or 90 days.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating that Beall and the children be thrown out in the streets because of Doug Phillips’ decisions in life, but I also realize that the choices of one often impact the lives of their loved ones as well. I have certainly experienced that first hand and wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. What I am curious about, more than anything, is what will happen with this substantial part of Doug Phillips’ salary that directly comes from Vision Forum Ministries. How will this be reconciled?
In addition to this gorgeous home, we have his salary from Vision Forum, Inc., which could be substantial, and his royalties. Doug Phillips is not taking much of a cut in income here. Doug Phillips states that he will be “serving as a foot soldier” during this time. This means he will still be working in the business he owns.
I have recently found out that Doug Phillips resigned from his position of Elder at Boerne Christian Assembly early this year. This concerns me. Either there were two very serious allegations against Doug Phillips, one serious enough to impact the church at the beginning of the year, and another one that prompted his recent resignation; OR he resigned as Elder because of this “serious sin” with another woman about nine months before he resigned as President of his ministry. How genuine does that repentance sound now? And why is he not under church discipline? I can guarantee you that anyone else would be under church discipline for this type of behavior. (I personally think there are better ways to handle it, but what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander, too.)
While I was checking out Vision Forum Ministry’s Form 990, I had a couple other questions that maybe someone can help me with. The first one regards the purchase of the radio program, Jonathan Park. Vision Forum Ministries bought Jonathan Park from Vision Forum, Inc. for $670,833.
“The organization acquired a program for the price of $670,833 called the J Park Program which is a fully developed radio broadcast that is now on 400 radio stations. Consistent with this organization’s mission, the J Park radio program promotes and teaches the study of science from a Christian perspective. Various products are sold in conjunction with this program that should make it self sustaining. This program was purchased from Vision Forum, Inc. and was purchased for a price established by a third party appraisal firm. The acquisition price of this program is listed as an asset on the balance sheet within, not of amortization.”
So, the ministry side paid $670,833 to the business side of Vision Forum. I’m scratching my head as to how this would benefit Vision Forum Ministries. They still sell all these products through Vision Forum, Inc., the business side, but the ministry side receives the money. Why are some products on the ministry side and other products are on the business side, yet all products are sold through the business side? What am I missing?
What I am not missing is that Vision Forum Ministries is the side that accepts donations. In 2011, Vision Forum Ministries received $2,606,157 in donations. That is not sales, that is just free money that homeschooling families freely gave to Doug Phillips. Let me repeat that. Two and a half million dollars. Of that $2,606,157, Vision Forum Ministries “paid” $670, 833 to Doug Phillips’ personal business to “buy” a product they already owned. Where did that money go? Directly to the owner of Vision Forum, Inc. So now, the donations of homeschooling families are being used to buy assets already owned by Vision Forum, so that Vision Forum can transfer money from the non-taxable side to the owner’s pockets. But maybe I am missing something here.
As I was reading through the questions and answers on Vision Forum Ministry’s Form 990, I had a couple other questions. On page 3, question 3 states: “Did the organization engage in direct or indirect political campaign activities on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office?” This is a huge requirement for keeping a 501c3 status. Vision Forum Ministries answered “No.” Technically, that is true. But how many people say to themselves, “Doug Phillips is not speaking on behalf of the ministry side of the house when he talks about politics; he is only speaking on behalf of his business side”? Or, when we think of Doug Phillips, do we think of Vision Forum, without trying to figure out which side of the house he is speaking from? In fact, when we read Doug’s Blog, it is a combination of Vision Forum’s ministry side, as he both advertises and reports on all the events connected to the ministry side of Vision Forum, as well as advertises and reports on all activities associated with the business side. On Doug’s Blog, they all run together. When we think of Doug Phillips, it all runs together in our minds as simply, “Vision Forum.”
So, let’s see if the average reader of Doug’s Blog would consider that Vision Forum Ministries does not engage in direct or indirect political campaign activities on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office. There are literally hundreds of entries that could be used as examples, but here and here are a couple that I found on a quick search of Doug’s Blog. What do you think? Would you agree that Vision Forum is not involved at all in politics?
Let us not forget that Doug Phillips’ father, Howard Phillips, Vision Forum Ministries’ Vice President, was a founding member of the Constitution Party, and that the Constitution Party itself was heavily involved in politics. That is a very close political connection, especially considering that Howard Phillips ran for President of the United States three times.
Although I was not excommunicated by Vision Forum Ministries, I cannot help but see the irony of my response to Doug Phillip’s blog article on voting, written on Vision Forum’s website, as the impetus for my excommunication. Politics are certainly strongly interwoven into all things Vision Forum.
One last little question, found on page 5, question 2 of Vision Forum Ministries Form 990: “Enter the number of employees reported on Form W-3, Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements …” Answer: 8 “If at least one is reported on line 2a, did the organization file all required federal employment tax returns?” Answer: “No.” Huh? They have eight employees but they did not file the required tax returns. And they told the IRS that. Somebody please help me out with that one!