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Citizenship

The (tax-exempt) church of John Oliver

Flickr: epSos.de

How is John Oliver this good?

It seems like every other week, the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight is producing a segment so insightful and so relevant to the Global Citizen cause that we have no choice but to cover it.

Exhibits A through C: his recent takes on climate change, the fashion industry and food waste. And who can forget this classic shoutout to last year’s Global Citizen Festival?

Honestly, at this point I think it’s clear that Oliver should just ditch his cushy cable digs and come work for Global Citizen.

(Seriously, everyone go tweet at John Oliver right now telling him to come work for Global Citizen! That would pretty much make my life.)

But I digress—THE POINT IS, Oliver has an eye for stories and issues global citizens everywhere should care about. And in a recent segment, he set his sights on a new topic: tax evasion.

More specifically, Oliver targeted a form of tax-related dodginess practiced by a group of influential American mega-pastors and televangelists. These so-called spiritual leaders ask their followers to tithe above and beyond their means, promising divine rewards, only to turn around and spend that money on luxury jets and sprawling estates.

The worst part is, because of gaping loopholes in how the US government defines a “church,” these televangelists collect their millions completely tax-free.

Needless to say, John Oliver is not a fan these self-serving evangelists or the tax codes that enable them. So he decided to call attention to the absurdity of it all by setting up his own, 100% legal “church” and asking viewers to donate.

Click here to watch the segment in its entirety, or scroll to the bottom to view an embedded version.

If you’re wondering what crooked American televangelists have to do with poverty or any of the issues Global Citizen covers, think of it this way: Whether it’s a self-proclaimed pastor using a sham church to shield millions in income from the IRS, or a corporation funneling assets to a tax haven, shady tax practices benefit the wealthy at the direct expense of those in need.

It doesn’t take a raging leftist to see how unjust tax practices—and the lax government policies that permit them—hurt the poor. These tactics shift the fiscal burden away from wealthy corporations and onto the shoulders of individual taxpayers like you and me. They also limit how much governments can spend on the programs that matter most to the world’s poor—like foreign aid—which are often the first to get slashed when money is tight.

And tax evasion isn’t just making it harder for developed countries to aid less wealthy ones—it’s also preventing poorer nations from helping themselves. By some estimates, multinational tax evasion costs developing countries as much as $160 billion dollars a year in missed tax revenue. That’s $160 billion dollars that won’t be spent on stuff impoverished people need most, from mosquito nets to working toilets to better schools.

That’s why global citizens have recently called on the governments of Australia and the United Kingdom to support much-needed tax reform. And it’s why I fully support John Oliver’s efforts to expose these televangelists for what they are: frauds.

As an added bonus, according to the website, any money donated to “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption” will in turn be given to one of my favorite nonprofits, Doctors Without Borders. Classy touch, John Oliver.