Protect nonprofits from becoming polarized by partisanship

Community members and nonprofit leaders — stand up  to protect nonprofits from partisan politics!

Last week the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services approved a FY2018 appropriations bill that includes a rider that would significantly weaken enforcement of the law on nonprofit nonpartisanship. The full House Appropriations Committee could consider the bill as soon as July 12.

The Johnson Amendment

The Johnson Amendment, proposed in 1954 by Lyndon Johnson and strengthened in 1987 by Ronald Reagan, created an eligibility condition for 501(c)(3) nonprofits that they may not intervene or participate in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any political candidates. This amendment has had longstanding bipartisan support to keep nonprofit organizations from being politicized.

The proposed rider (Section 116)

A current proposal to remove or weaken the Johnson Amendment via a rider (Section 116) in the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill would make it virtually impossible for the IRS to enforce even the most blatant violations of the Johnson Amendment. Why?

  • The rider would allow undisclosed and unregulated dark money to flow into partisan election campaigns
  • 47 very conservative groups and religious broadcasters, who would benefit from an influx of money via nonpartisan organizations, are behind the push for this rider

4800 nonprofits (and counting), plus 3,000 religious leaders (so far) and 99 religious and denominational organizations are urging Congress to oppose the Section 116 rider and keep the Johnson Amendment as is. Congressman Chris Stewart is on the House Appropriations Committee. It’s time we give him a call!

CALL TO ACTION

  • Call Congressman Chris Stewart by the end of the day TODAY and ask him to strip the Johnson Amendment rider (Section 116) from the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill to save our houses of worship, foundations and nonprofits from being politicized, polarized and hurt in their ability to carry out their missions.
  • Have your nonprofit sign these letters. If you work for or are a member of a national nonprofit organization, make sure your organization signs onto the new Letter Opposing Weakening the Johnson Amendment in the FSGG Appropriations Bill and this Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship.
  • Forward this to friends at nonprofit organizations by email or tweets and urge them to join you in contacting Representatives on the House Appropriations Committee and encouraging national nonprofits to sign the Letter Opposing Weakening the Johnson Amendment. Tweet with hashtags #JohnsonAmendment and/or #CommunityNotCandidates.

Rep. Chris Stewart (Congressional District 2): 202-225-9730 (DC) // 801-364-5550 (SLC) // 435-627-1500 (St. George)

More information

Tim Delaney of the National Council of Nonprofits elegantly outlines the issue and the latest updates in this Nonprofit Quarterly article, including these important points:

What’s at Stake

Nonprofit, religious, and foundation leaders across the country support the current law because they recognize that politicizing the sector will hurt their ability to deliver on their missions. Consider this sampling of ways that the Johnson Amendment has protected us all for six decades:

  • We don’t have donors questioning if we are siphoning off their charitable contributions to give to political candidates—because we can’t. If we could, trust would be broken and donations would go down for all nonprofits.
  • We don’t see the division and duplication of the “First Republican Baptist Church” across the street from the “First Democratic Baptist Church.”
  • We don’t have churches, synagogues, mosques, or temples using tithes and offerings to broadcast endorsements for candidates or political parties over their radio and television programs.
  • We’ve had a reliable refuge to escape toxic partisanship, as 501(c)(3) organizations operate as safe places where people can come together to actually solve community problems rather than just posture and remain torn apart.
  • We don’t have our boardrooms divided by one board member saying, “We should endorse Sally,” while the board chair declares, “No, we should endorse Jack.”
  • We live in a world in which our foundation partners don’t endorse political candidates and send not-so-subtle hints that its nonprofit grantees and potential grantees can prove their worth by endorsing the same candidates.
  • Human service providers with government contracts can’t be squeezed with the suggestion they could lose their contract unless they endorse the incumbent. Foundations can’t be told that candidates running for local office might want to tax foundation assets unless endorsements or contributions are made. University presidents can’t be told by candidates for Governor, Congress, or the Presidency—or influential alumni—that the stadium needs to be provided free of charge for a candidate rally—meaning eating the costs for security, planning, clean-up, and more.
  • People looking to nonprofits for needed services don’t need to think twice about the potential affiliation of an organization with a particular candidate. Potential volunteers, employees, or donors don’t have to think about the fact that the organization supports Candidate A in a primary or Candidate B in a general election. They can all remain focused on the mission of the organization.
  • 501(c)(3) organizations can say “no” to demands for political endorsements and campaign contributions because requests by politicians and their operatives for endorsements and contributions amount to asking the charities, houses of worship, and foundations to break the law. But were Congress to weaken the Johnson Amendment, charitable organizations and religious institutions would be harassed by financial inducements or undue pressure from politicians, operatives, board members, and donors who demand political endorsements.

All those benefits—and more—could vanish if you sit on the sidelines and let Congress tamper with the protections in the Johnson Amendment.

(Special thanks to Utah Nonprofits Association for bringing this issue to our attention)

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