State-level Opposition to Attacks on Foundation and Nonprofit Nonpartisanship

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Should community/family/private independent/other foundations be constantly hounded by politicians and their operatives seeking official endorsements by foundations, contributions from foundation assets, hosting of partisan fundraising events, and more? Would it help advance your mission to have an endless stream of primary election and then general election candidates – for everything from local school boards, city councils, and county offices to all state and federal offices – continually beseeching you and your board members for the foundation’s formal support? And do you want politicians placing foundations under microscopes looking more closely at foundation assets and activities, initially with an eye for ways for you to give them even more help, but later raising questions if you don’t support them?

Those are just a few of the possible consequences if President Trump follows through with his vow last week at the National Prayer Breakfast to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment,” the provision in Section 501(c)(3) that, for more than 60 years, has successfully protected foundations, charitable nonprofits, and religious congregations from being politicized and weaponized to benefit politicians and paid political consultants. His threat is not an idle one. Legislation is before Congress seeking to totally repeal (H.R.172) or substantially weaken (S.264H.R.781) the crucial protection. While much of the rhetoric and news coverage so far has focused on demands of (some) religious groups to get to be both tax-exempt and heavily partisan, these bills would affect all 501(c)(3) organizations.

Nonprofits across the country quickly saw the danger to their independence and integrity, prompting numerous state associations of nonprofits to express their opposition, including the Arkansas Nonprofit Alliance,  California Association of Nonprofits, Hawai’i Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations, Kentucky Nonprofit Network, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, New Jersey Center for Non-Profits, North Carolina Center for Nonprofits, and Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits to alert their members to the grave threat. The National Council of Nonprofits swiftly  expressed “strong opposition” to this attack on civil society. A growing number of groups are opposing politicization as well,  including religious groups (e.g., Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Interfaith Alliance) and others (e.g., BoardSource and Independent Sector). 

To keep the nonprofit and foundation community informed, the National Council of Nonprofits has created a dedicated webpage on Protecting Nonprofit Nonpartisanship with analyses and other resources on this serious challenge to foundation and nonprofit independence and integrity. Please share statements, analyses, and other resources that we can share with the broader community.

Note: This post originally appeared in the February 9 edition of Washington Snapshot from the Council on Foundations.


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