Warnock's Church Faces Subpoena Threat as Georgia Runoff Campaign Kicks Off

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D., Ga.) / Getty Images
November 11, 2022

After Sen. Raphael Warnock's (D., Ga.) church failed to respond to an Oct. 12 inquiry into its charity registration, the Georgia Office of Secretary of State is weighing whether to file a subpoena against the group, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.

Authorities are mulling how to ratchet up the pressure on the Ebenezer Building Foundation, including whether to issue a formal subpoena against the church if it does not respond when a Georgia state investigator delivers another investigative letter, a spokesman for the state charities division told the Free Beacon on Thursday. Though it is not clear precisely when the second letter will be delivered, authorities are expected to do so in the coming days.

The Securities and Charities Division of Georgia's Office of Secretary of State instructed the foundation, which is controlled by Warnock's Ebenezer Baptist Church, to answer its initial letter by Nov. 2.

The state's threat of an investigative subpoena against Ebenezer's charity could pose problems for Warnock as he launches his runoff campaign against Republican challenger Herschel Walker. The Dec. 6 runoff contest could determine which party controls the Senate if Republicans notch a victory in Arizona or Nevada, which are still tabulating votes from Tuesday's election.

The church, which pays Warnock a $7,417-per-month tax-free housing allowance, intermingles its finances with the charity. The two entities ended 2021 with combined cash and "cash equivalents" exceeding $1.2 million, according to audited financial statements obtained by the Free Beacon.

The charity, which owns a low-income apartment building that moved to evict residents during the pandemic, has claimed in IRS tax filings dating back to 2011 that it is registered to operate in Georgia. But state authorities told the Free Beacon in October that this claim isn't true. Charities operating without registration can face civil fines, and in more extreme cases, the Georgia secretary of state can bar offenders from raising funds in the state.

Warnock's ties to his church's low-income apartment building dogged him in the last weeks of his campaign. Warnock accused Walker of trying to "exploit" the disadvantaged residents who faced eviction during the pandemic and that the Republican was sullying the name of civil-rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. for "short-term political gain." Walker has placed the issue at the center of his runoff campaign, launching the "Evict Warnock Bus Tour" on Thursday.

The secretary of state's probe is not the only investigation looming over Warnock. Former senator Kelly Loeffler (R., Ga.) called on authorities to fast-track an investigation into illegal activity at failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams's (D.) New Georgia Project, which Warnock chaired from 2017 through early 2020. The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission confirmed Monday that it was aware of the allegations against the New Georgia Project but said its hands were tied until after the 2022 election is decided.

Ebenezer executive pastor John Vaughn and board chairman Ken Palmer did not return requests for comment.