The Watchtower Way of Laundering Money

by Randall Watters


reprint from the Jun/Aug 1995 Free Minds Journal with additional notes made on 12/8/96

Previous to a major policy change in 1990, Watchtower literature was distributed at what was termed a "specified contribution" price for each item. Witness canvassers (called "publishers") bought their literature supplies from the congregation and then resold these from door-to-door. All monies were then remitted to the Society's headquarters in Brooklyn, New York.

The new policy announced in 1990 detailed a complete donation basis for literature. It was now to be supplied without charge to congregations, but contribution boxes are placed by the counter for donations from the publishers, supposedly to cover the cost of printing and distribution. In the field, donations for the items are solicited, but are supposedly not necessary in order to obtain books and magazines. Such donations received from the public are then to be brought back to the Kingdom Hall and sent to the Society.

What was the motivation for these changes? The Society's answer was that less paperwork would be needed and the literature could be more easily distributed. "By adopting a method of literature distribution based completely on donation, Jehovah's people are able to greatly simplify our Bible education work and separate ourselves from those who commercialize religion." (Letter from the Watch Tower Society to all U.S. congregations dated February 21, 1990.)

The second reason given about `separating ourselves from those who commercialize religion' alluded to the real reason for the Society's change in literature distribution. Just one month before the new policy was announced, the Society watched how the Supreme Court ruled in California Board of Equalization vs. Jimmy Swaggart Ministries. California wanted to assess sales taxes on the sale of books and tapes and other items by Swaggart's ministry. The Watch Tower Society filed amicus curiae (a friend of the court legal brief) in support of Swaggart's position, that a religious organization should be exempt from such taxation. On Jan. 17, 1990, just a little over a month before the Society's change in policy, the Supreme Court ruled against Swaggart and permitted taxation. The Society's new policy avoided any liability for taxation by taking the financial transaction out of the picture (donations cannot be taxed).

The new policy was primarily a tax dodge. The side benefit to the Watchtower was that they received monies TWICE for the items, if all went as planned: Perhaps a dollar or two for a small book when you picked up the literature from the Kingdom Hall, and if you received a donation for the book from the householder, you were required to bring this back to the Hall and deposit it as well. (Hmmm..., something's fishy!)

The Society's letter outlining the new policy took great pains to emphasize that the donation policy was not a subterfuge for continued specified prices. The claim was made that "we will not suggest a specific donation." (Letter dated February 9, 1990.) Yet a subsequent letter gave instructions on how to suggest the old prices for Watchtower and Awake! subscriptions:

"It may be that the subscriber will ask how much is expected. The publisher should inform the subscriber that the making of a donation or the amount of such is entirely up to the subscriber. The publisher may inform the subscriber that some have donated $5 and others $10 or more, but the amount is left up to the subscriber. Whether or not a donation is made the subscription will be renewed ... If it turns out that a subscriber does not make a donation, as Jehovah God's fellow workers we have the opportunity to support that work, depending on our circumstances." (Letter dated February 21, 1990)

Here the WT Society is telling Witnesses to suggest $5 or $10 for subscriptions, which is the previous rate. Interestingly, the Society also suggests that if Witnesses can't collect that from the public, then the Witnesses themselves have the opportunity to donate to cover for the public.

So what happens when people currently write in to the Society asking for literature?

Apparently, literature, including magazine subscriptions, can rarely be obtained through the mail any longer. Even renewal notices for return mail are no longer sent, the householder being informed that they must obtain all materials through their local Kingdom Hall. Even at Watchtower headquarters in New York, only two or three items can be requested at a time from the Society's Furman Street literature counter. The Society's literature is free, but only in limited supply.

More recently, attempts to obtain the Watchtower's new CD-ROM computer disk (containing all of their publications on electronic media, some back to 1950) have yielded interesting results. Because the May 1994 Our Kingdom Ministry (p. 7) "suggests" a price of $25 or $50, though not in so many words, publishers are often requiring a minimum payment, sometimes up front, before they will order the CD-ROM disk. In one case, the JW is demanding $40 before he will place the order! It seems that Witnesses are taught to be more and more deceptive as time passes, which is merely a reflection of their mother (the organization).

Apparently, their recent significant drop in income, coupled with the failure of rank-and-file Witnesses to donate funds sufficient to their liking for materials received "free" has caused the Watchtower to make the following statement in the November 1996 issue (p.3) of their in-house bulletin entitled Our Kingdom Ministry:


additional notes:

It is interesting how they have even "raised the price" of a number of items! They appear be suggesting a donation of $50-100 for the CD-ROM instead of $25 to $50, and $40 for reference works such as Insight on the Scriptures. Since their costs of producing CD-ROMs could not exceed two dollars each (probably closer to $1), one wonders who they are trying to deceive.

One investigator sent in a donation to the Watchtower "equivalent to that once specified" for some literature, just to see what would happen. A letter, and an additional card was sent back. The letter was a "thank you" letter acknowleding a donation, but containing no hint as to any literature involved. But the card sent with it stated, "We are pleased to inform you that your request for Bible literature has been honored and will be mailed seperately." Using this technique, the WT feels they are going to avoid legal complications. Time will tell as to whether the State of California decides to reopen the case with regards to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.


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