Nonprofits Vigorously Object to Financial Services Subcommittee Efforts to Politicize Houses of Worship

Nonprofits Vigorously Object to Financial Services Subcommittee Efforts to Politicize Houses of Worship

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Washington, DC - In response to the attempt to sneak through a change to longstanding substantive law by including it as an extraneous rider to a spending bill, Tim Delaney, President and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, issued the following statement:

“Charitable nonprofits, including houses of worship, and foundations vigorously object to any and all efforts to weaken the protections in tax law that prevent politicians, their operatives, and donors from demanding political endorsements and campaign contributions. The extraneous rider approved in the House Financial Services Subcommittee today would impose unconstitutional and unreasonable hurdles on enforcing the law that ensures nonpartisanship, and must be removed from the bill known as the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2018.

Current law protects the integrity and independence of charitable nonprofits, including houses of worship, and foundations, by shielding the entire 501(c)(3) community from the rancor of partisan politics. Under current law, nonprofits can and must refuse to endorse politicians and decline requests to syphon charitable assets away from mission to fund political campaigns. The action of the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, however, takes away that ironclad protection for houses of worship, potentially subjecting tens of thousands of congregations to overzealous solicitations from politicians, paid consultants, and donors who can claim that the law won’t be enforced against them. Every charitable nonprofit will suffer from a loss of public respect and trust fostered by this inappropriate rider to an appropriations bill.

“As we have seen with many 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, mission no longer matters when partisan, election-related interests are involved. But the difference here is that donors will now be given a charitable tax deduction for securing candidate endorsements from previously nonpartisan charitable nonprofits.”

What the Public Thinks

The vast majority of Americans and charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations firmly believe that 501(c)(3) organizations should remain dedicated solely to the public good and should stay away from raw partisan politics:

  • A poll conducted in March 2017 found that nearly three out of four American voters (72 percent) want to keep current rules protecting 501(c)(3) organizations from partisan political activity. A separate survey conducted in February by the National Association of Evangelicals found that 89 percent of pastors oppose the idea of clergy mixing partisan politics and religion by endorsing candidates from the pulpit. These results are consistent with numerous polls conducted over several years.
  • Almost 100 national and state religious and denominational organizations wrote in a letter to Congress stressing: “People of faith do not want partisan political fights infiltrating their houses of worship. Houses of worship are spaces for members of religious communities to come together, not be divided along political lines; faith ought to be a source of connection and community, not division and discord.”
  • The Community Letter in Support of Nonprofit Nonpartisanship, signed by more than 4,700 charitable, religious, and philanthropic organizations from all 50 states, demonstrates strong opposition to proposals to repeal or weaken the Johnson Amendment. (To see the organizations that signed, visit www.GiveVoice.org.)

Background

The Johnson Amendment provides that organizations organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 cannot endorse or oppose candidates for office, make campaign contributions, or coordinate activities with candidates, PACs, and political parties. The amendment was offered by then-Senate Minority Leader Lyndon Johnson to the Tax Reform Act of 1954. It was signed into law by President Eisenhower, and re-enacted and strengthened in bills signed by President Reagan.

The rider in the Financial Services FY2018 appropriations bill (Section 116) would prevent the federal government from enforcing the law even when there are egregious violations of the Johnson Amendment unless (1) the highest ranking official at the IRS consents to a determination of unlawful conduct, (2) politicians at the House and Senate tax committees are given 30-days notice of the law-enforcement determination, and (3) an additional 90-days notice is provided before enforcement.

The House Financial Services Subcommittee approved the bill today on a party-line vote, despite serious objections lodged by 50 organizations representing charitable nonprofits, foundations, religious denominations, and others.

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About the National Council of Nonprofits

The National Council of Nonprofits (Council of Nonprofits) is a trusted resource and proven advocate for America’s charitable nonprofits. Connecting the policy dots across all levels and branches of governments, the Council of Nonprofits keeps nonprofits informed and empowered to create a positive public policy environment that best supports nonprofits in advancing their missions. Working with and through the nation’s largest network of nonprofits – with 25,000-plus organizational members - we identify emerging trends, share proven practices, and promote solutions that benefit charitable nonprofits and the communities they serve. Learn more at www.councilofnonprofits.org

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