Act Now to Keep the Independent Sector Nonpartisan

Monday, March 12, 2018

A potential repeal or weakening of the Johnson Amendment is very much in play again in Congress. The Johnson Amendment is the law that prohibits 501(c)3 chartitable organizations from endorsing, opposing, or contriubuting to political candidates and engaging in partisan campaign activities. For 60+ years, nonprofits have been nonpartisan entities and the Minnesota Council on Foundations, along with the MN Council of Nonprofits, supports the continued full enforcement of the Johnson Amendment and keeping partisan politics out of the charitable sector. MCF and MCN wrote a joint commentary in the Star Tribune on this topic when the Johnson Amendment repeal was under consideration for inclusion in the 2017 tax bill; it was only removed due to the Byrd Rule in the Senate.

The House of Representatives is now expected to include the repeal or weakening on the Johnson Amendment in the spending bill that must pass by March 23, 2018 to avoid another government shutdown. Nonprofits and foundations did not ask for this change; it was proposed by a very small number of religious leaders. There's already a solution for nonprofits that want to engage in partisan politics - they can become 501(c)4 organizations. Offering religious institutions a similar option, rather than politicizing the nonprofit sector and creating a new funnel for dark - and tax deductible - money in politics, is a much more prudent solution for Congress to consider.

More than 4,300 religious leaders, 89% of evangelical pastors, and over 5,700 nonprofits, houses of worships and foundations are opposed to this change. Nonprofit Quarterly captured these numbers and a great interview with Tim Delaney, President of the National Council of Nonprofits, about the current threat in Congress to politicize nonprofits and foundations. 

MCF urges its members to ACT NOW to oppose this threat to the nonpartisan nature of our sector. Here's what you can do:

1) Contact Senator Klobuchar and Senator Smith to let them know you oppose any effort to weaken or repeal the Johnson Amendment and that you ask them to oppose the inclusion of any changes to the Johnson Amendment in the Senate's must-pass spending bill.

2) Contact your representative in the House to let them know you oppose any effort to weaken or repeal the Johnson Amendment and that you ask them to oppose the inclusion of any changes to the Johnson Amendment in the House's must-pass spending bill.



March 16, 2018

The effort to repeal the Johnson Amendment is alive and well in Congress.  This law that prohibits tax exempt organizations from getting directly involved with partisan political campaigns is being considered for inclusion in the 2018 budget bill that requires Congressional action by next Friday, March 23.

“We Minnesotans contribute dollars and volunteer time because we trust that our faith organizations, nonprofits and foundations are working towards the public’s benefit. We want them focused on service, care and the community good, and not on winning the next election.” Said MCF president Trista Harris. “ We do not want the Johnson Amendment changed. Period.”

Repeal of the Johnson Amendment was included in the House version of the recently enacted federal tax reform bill. It was not included in the Senate’s tax bill and was dropped in conference.  While thousands of nonprofits and faith organizations oppose the repeal, including all national nonprofit and charitable giving advocacy groups, very small group of conservative religious organizations keep pushing for the repeal.

Politico is reporting the threat to the Johnson Amendment is very much alive as lawmakers struggle to reach agreement on the omnibus spending bill. The legislation won’t be introduced this week because of at least five contentious issues, including A tax provision that would allow churches and nonprofits to participate in political campaigns. Other big issues listed are: NY-NJ Gateway project, DACA extension and border wall funding, abortion funding restrictions, and Affordable Care Act subsidies.

“Let’s be clear, this is not about freedom of speech.  It’s about creating a new path for dark money into politics,” said MCF policy director Bob Tracy. “Everything advocates for this changes say they want can happen under existing law. We can advocate and lobby as 501(c)(3) organizations, and if  tax exempt groups want to get into elections then they can organize as ‘c4’ organization.

It is estimated repeal of the Johnson Amendment would cost the federal budget $1 billion annually as currently taxable contributions to campaigns get redirected and passed through as contributions to tax exempt organizations.

The Minnesota Council on Foundations and the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits opposed the Johnson Amendment repeal in a Star Tribune commentary when it was being considered as part of the federal tax reform debate and continue to oppose this change in federal tax law.

Minnesota Council on Foundations supports creating prosperity through inclusion and equity.  As part of this commitment, we work to strengthen democratic systems and civic engagement, including expanded voter access.  MCF’s membership includes over 170 Minnesota grantmakers, including corporate giving programs, community foundations and private foundations who collectively invest $1.4 billion dollars through charitable giving.


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