Johnson Amendment

Republicans are trying to repeal or weaken the Johnson Amendment so that mega-donors can deduct political contributions from their taxes. Disguised as a call to "restore religious freedom" they have inserted language into Section 112 of the House version of the FSGG Appropriations Act (HR.6258) that would block the IRS from enforcing the Johnson amendment in regards to churches. The Senate version does not have such language. If the House-Senate conference committee reports out a final bill with language repealing or weakening the amendment, we'll need to urge our MoC to vote against the entire bill.

The Johnson Amendment requires that in exchange for enjoying tax-exempt status and the ability to receive tax-deductible contributions, nonprofit organizations such as foundations and churches agree not to engage in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” For more than 60 years this law has prevented big donors from deducting their political contributions from their taxes by funneling them through legitimate (or phony) nonprofit organizations. 

The issue isn't freedom of speech, it's who pays for it. Without the Johnson Amendment, for every million dollars in political contributions passed through a nonprofit, mega-donors could cut up to $370,000 off their taxes. And by so doing, starve the federal government of another $370k that might be used for Medicare, public housing, education and so on.

The “religious freedom” Republicans claim they are seeking to “restore” is the unfettered ability to endorse or oppose candidates for public office and to divert charitable resources to support partisan campaigns. But that freedom already exists because nonprofit organizations (including churches) have a choice – they can either pay for their partisan politicking so taxpayers are not subsidizing their speech, or receive tax-deductible donations – but not both. 

There's no shortage of intensely political churches who fiercely oppose reproductive and gay rights, social spending, and the separation of church and state; and since the IRS guidelines are quite loose, corporate CEOs and billionaire investors could easily set up and totally control new “churches” whose primary purpose is actually political action.  

The Senate version of the  FSGG Appropriations Act (S.3107) does not contain the House language weakening the Johnson Amendment. The two bills are now in conference committee where final language will be hammered out. This same situation occurred with the Tax Scam bill earlier this year and that final bill did not include language weakening the Johnson Amendment. Hopefully, that will also be the case with the  FSGG Appropriations Act, but if that's not the case we will have to urge our MoC to vote NO! 

For more information:

Protecting the Johnson Amendment and Nonprofit Nonpartisanship (National Council of Nonprofits)

Setting the Record Straight on Charities and Political Speech (The Hill)