Preserving Nonprofit Nonpartisanship and the Johnson Amendment | Take Action

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Nonprofit Nonpartisanship (the Johnson Amendment)
Under Attack, Again

A House-Senate conference committee is currently working on legislation 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. 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 began on October 1. The Senate did not include this or other controversial riders in its version of the appropriations measure. The differences in the bills now must be resolved by a House-Senate conference committee. The decision whether to keep, reject, or revise the harmful provision in the House bill rests in the hands of “conferees,” the lawmakers who will be negotiating the final language. 

It is essential that Members 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 Representatives and Senators and deliver this simple message:

“.[Representative/Senator’s Twitter Handle] Partisanship has NO place in charitable organizations – whether churches, charities, or foundations. Oppose all efforts in conference to include a controversial anti-Johnson Amendment rider to the Financial Services spending bill, H.R.6147.” http://bit.ly/2NgDS5U

         

Alabama

Sen. Richard Shelby (202) 224-5744 Community Letter Tweet Tweet
Rep. Robert Aderholt (202) 225-4876 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

Alaska

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (202) 224-6665 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

California

Rep. Ken Calvert (202) 225-1986 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

Delaware

Sen. Christopher Coons (202) 224-5042 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

Florida

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (202) 225-4211 Community Letter Tweet Tweet
Rep. John Rutherford (202) 225-2501 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

Georgia

Rep. Sanford Bishop (202) 225-3631 Community Letter Tweet Tweet
Rep. Tom Graves (202) 225-5211 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

Idaho

Rep. Mike Simpson (202) 225-5531 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

Illinois

Rep. Mike Quigley (202) 225-4061 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

Iowa

Rep. David Young (202) 225-5476 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

Maine

Sen. Susan Collins (202) 224-2523 Community Letter Tweet Tweet
Rep. Chellie Pingree (202) 225-6116 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

Minnesota

Rep. Betty McCollum (202) 225-6631 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

Mississippi

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (202) 224-5054 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

New Jersey

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (202) 225-5034 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

New Mexico

Sen. Tom Udall (202) 224-6621 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

New York

Rep. Nita Lowey (202) 225-6506 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

North Carolina

Rep. David Price (202) 225-1784 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

North Dakota

Sen. John Hoeven (202) 224-2551 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

Oklahoma

Sen. James Lankford (202) 224-5754 Community Letter Tweet Tweet
Rep. Tom Cole (202) 225-6165 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

Oregon

Sen. Jeff Merkley (202) 224-3753 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

Rhode Island

Sen. Jack Reed (202) 224-4642 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

Vermont

Sen. Patrick Leahy (202) 224-4242 Community Letter Tweet Tweet

 

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.

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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