Preserving Nonprofit Nonpartisanship and the Johnson Amendment | Take Action

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Nonprofit Nonpartisanship (the Johnson Amendment)
Under Attack, Again

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill on July 19 that, among other things, would effectively undermine the longstanding Johnson Amendment, the provision of federal tax law that protects charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations from demands from politicians and others for endorsements and other support.

The Senate takes up its own version of the spending bill the week of July 23. That bill does not include the anti-Johnson Amendment language because of a bi-partisan agreement to avoid controversial, poison pill riders. It is essential that Senators fully understand that the broad nonprofit community considers any changes to the law protecting nonprofit nonpartisanship to be extremely controversial. Nonprofits of all types – not just houses of worship must show your strong opposition to politicizing our sector. Call (202-224-3121), email, and tweet your Senators and deliver this simple message:

“.[Senator’s Twitter Handle] Partisanship has NO place in charitable organizations – whether houses of worship, charitable nonprofits, or private foundations. Oppose all efforts, now and in conference, to add an anti-Johnson Amendment rider to the FSGG bill.”

Visit www.GiveVoice.org to read the letter to Chairman Frelinghuysen in opposition to Section 112 of the FSGG Appropriations bill for FY 2019 for more information and additional resources.

At issue is controversial language that would effectively block the IRS from enforcing the Johnson Amendment when “churches” violate it in even the most egregious ways, such as diverting charitable assets to influence partisan political campaigns. That language was added at Section 112 to the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill for fiscal year 2019, that begins on October 1 – just five weeks before the general election. The House approved legislation on July 19 that combines that measure with a funding bill for Interior-Environment in a “mini-bus” package. In recent speeches, Vice President Pence and outside groups have ratcheted up their rhetoric and advocacy efforts in support of repealing the Johnson Amendment.

In June, the Senate Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, passed its version of the spending bill without any controversial or poison pill riders, including the anti-Johnson Amendment provision. The measure is expected to go to the Senate floor the week of July 23. Assuming passage, the legislation will be sent to a House-Senate conference committee to work out the differences between the two bills.

Background

Buried in a House appropriations bill for next fiscal year is an extraneous provision (rider) that would enable politicians, their operatives, and donors to pressure hundreds of thousands of nonprofits into endorsing and diverting charitable assets to candidates for public office. Section 112 of the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) spending bill for the fiscal year beginning on October 1 seeks to make it virtually impossible for the Internal Revenue Service to enforce the law against certain nonprofits for even the most egregious violations of the 1954 law known as the Johnson Amendment that requires nonprofits to be nonpartisan. The proposed change would effectively give “churches” and their auxiliaries a free pass to ignore the longstanding law that prevents them, as well as charitable nonprofits and foundations, from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office or diverting nonprofit assets to fund political campaigns. The rider offers no reductions or lessening of the restrictions on enforcement against secular organizations and leaders, thus creating a framework that explicitly encourages discriminatory enforcement of the law. 

In a statement dated July 16, several national organizations expressed strong opposition to the anti-Johnson Amendment rider and urged its removal from the House bill. See also a letter to Chairman Frelinghuysen opposing Section 112 of the FSGG Appropriations bill for FY2019

This change to the Johnson Amendment would be contrary to the views of the vast majority of organizations that benefit from keeping divisive partisanship away from their operations, as reflected in the Faith Voices letter signed by more than 4,400 faith leaders, the separate letter signed by more than 100+ denominations and major religious organizations, the Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship signed by more than 5,800 organizations in all 50 states, and a letter from the law enforcement community warning against changing proven law, as well as polls showing that 72 percent of the public support keeping the Johnson Amendment in place and 89 percent of evangelical pastors who say it is wrong for preachers to endorse candidates from the pulpit.

If It Just Gives Churches a Free Pass to Violate the Law, Why Should I Care?

All 501(c)(3) organizations should recognize that weakening the protections of the Johnson Amendment for any of us weakens it for all of us.

  • Last year, the House Ways & Means Committee initially considered language that exempted only “churches” and their auxiliaries, but later expanded it to cover ALL 501(c)(3) organizations, so it is unsafe to sit on the policy sidelines assuming that your organization may be safe.
  • Last year, the Joint Committee on Taxation determined that a similar attempt to weaken the Johnson Amendment for “churches” would have cost taxpayers $2.1 billion over several years. The reason? The nonpartisan “scorekeeper” of Congress recognized that donors would shift billions of dollars in partisan donations away from candidates and PACs and instead to newly politicized houses of worship (think “pop-up churches”) through which the donors could receive charitable tax deductions for the first time.
  • Dollars diverted to Republican churches or Democratic churches are dollars denied to legitimate nonprofits struggling to fund needed and appreciated services in communities.
  • Do you have current donors who would jump at the chance to get a tax deduction and fund their partisan agendas? Can you be sure they will stay with you and pass up the tax deduction?
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