February 10, 2017
The Johnson Amendment is a federal tax law provision proposed by then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and passed in 1954. It makes tax-exempt entities like churches and charitable organizations under the 501(c) 3 status unable to directly or indirectly participate in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate. Specifically, ministers are restricted from endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit and charities are unable to fundraise for and endorse or oppose candidates for political office. If they do, they risk losing their tax-exempt status. Considered uncontroversial at the time, it was passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Last week, President Trump speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast reiterated an earlier pledge to "get rid of and totally destroy" the Johnson Amendment. The U.S. Congress is now considering three bills that would politicize charitable nonprofits (S.264 in the U.S. Senate and H.R. 781 and H.R. 172 in the U.S. House of Representatives).
The Nonprofit Association of Oregon joins The Independent Sector, the National Council of Nonprofits and many other charitable nonprofits in strongly opposing efforts to politicize charities by eliminating the Johnson Amendment. We oppose the politicization of nonprofits for these reasons:
- These proposals would politicize the sector, subjecting nonprofits and foundations to demands for campaign contributions (and thereby divert donors' money away from mission-related work to benefit politicians).
- A repeal would damage public trust in the work of nonprofits, who value the impartiality and independence of our sector and our requirement, as written in statue to "do good" It is important to remember that the voting public has greater trust of charities in America than political parties or any one politician. See Independent Sector's United for Charity report.
- The repeal of the Johnson Amendment is completely unnecessary. Nonprofits - and their individual staff, board members, and volunteers - already have many legal avenues to freely express their views on a wide range of policy issues through existing laws that allow for advocacy of our missions to policymakers.
If you agree with NAO's position, please take action by writing your US Representative and Senators Merkley and Wyden. If you are in favor of the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, we would like to hear your thoughts on why. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us why.