• Linda Czipo

    The importance of this issue and the need for urgent, immediate action can’t be overstated. If the Johnson Amendment is gutted, 501(c)(3) organizations will become vulnerable to a disturbing array of pressures from which they are currently protected. Under just a few very plausible scenarios: an unscrupulous legislator could withhold support of an important bill unless an organization endorsed her re-election; a wealthy donor could condition his contribution on an organization’s speaking out against a candidate that the donor opposes; or an organization could be “rewarded” with contributions (non-disclosable, and still deductible for mostly-wealthy itemizers) for endorsing a particular candidate.
    The influence of money on politics AND on charitable activities will expand exponentially. At the community level, in today’s polarized political environment, attracting board members and volunteers will immediately become more difficult.

    Remember that the efforts to repeal or defang the Johnson Amendment are all based on the inaccurate claim that the Johnson Amendment somehow muzzles free speech. Under the current law, organizations remain free to engage in unlimited issue advocacy and limited lobbying – which are vital activities for charitable missions. Individuals associated with a 501(c)(3) is always free to make public statements endorsing or opposing candidates in elections, as long as they do so as individuals and not with organization resources or under organization auspices. The Johnson Amendment hasn’t stopped individuals from endorsing candidates, but gutting it would open dark money floodgates and damage our community discourse in countless alarming ways.

    Charities, churches and foundations shouldn’t be turned into political pawns or bargaining chips. Congress needs to preserve the Johnson Amendment.

  • David Heinen

    It is disconcerting to hear how much pressure is being
    exerted to repeal or weaken the Johnson Amendment. The vast majority of
    501(c)(3)s with which I’ve been associated (which is quite a few) have
    absolutely no interest in getting involved in partisan politics, even if they
    were allowed to do so. However, the reality is that – without the protection of
    the Johnson Amendment – donors, board members, and politicians will be
    pressuring charities, foundations, and churches to endorse candidates and spend
    money on partisan politics. It will be hard for many to resist this pressure,
    particularly when it comes with the implication that key funding sources could
    be lost if organizations stay out of politics.

    In many ways, this would effectively transform charities, foundations, and
    houses of worship into 501(c)(4) organizations with the added benefit of being
    able to receive tax-deductible contributions. I was recently in a meeting that
    included representatives from a mix of 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofits and 501(c)(4)
    social welfare organizations (which can endorse candidates since they aren’t
    covered by the Johnson Amendment). Every organization in the room, regardless of tax
    status, had a clear mission. Near the end of the meeting, everyone was asked to
    identify a key priority for their organization in the coming year. The
    representatives from 501(c)(3) nonprofits described programmatic or public
    policy goals that were tied to their organizations’ missions. But every
    participant who worked for a 501(c)(4) organization listed their group’s top
    goal as “endorsing candidates who will get elected” and then added “oh, and .
    ..” (insert a policy change related to their organization’s mission). The clear
    takeaway: Without the Johnson Amendment, mission will become a secondary
    concern for many nonprofits.

  • The tapestry that weaves communities together in the United States relies upon dedicated citizens working through charitable nonprofit organizations to protect, preserve and promote our quality of life. They care for others, educate children, inspire us with art, cultivate leaders, protect the environment, heal the sick, build homes for the homeless, and so much more. The work of these citizens enriches us all and deserves our support. That is why so many of us give our time, treasure and talent in support of this work. It is for all of us. But this could change.

    Another segment of our community wishes to politicize everything. These are the forces of partisan division which are tearing apart our civic culture. If we weave the threads of partisanship into the tapestry of charitable nonprofits’ work, they will become part of the same divisive environment plaguing our public arena today. They will lose the public support that focuses on the good they do, and instead become pawns in the political battles to come.

    The Johnson Amendment protects these citizens from this partisan poison. It requires nonprofits to focus on good work, and keeps them from playing to partisan divisions. Of course it does not mean they cannot engage in advocacy for their cause in the public arena, as their rights to lobby and educate elected officials are completely empowered with the Johnson Amendment in place. But diminishing or repealing the Johnson Amendment will poison this good work, and turn it into one more political pawn of the forces of division.

    Don’t let the good work of our fellow citizens be diminished and poisoned. Contact your member of Congress today and offer your full-throated endorsement of the Johnson Amendment.

  • AJO

    If charities and churches want to support or oppose candidates, all they have to do is form 501(c)4s. Still nonprofit, but donations are not tax-deductible. It’s insane that with all the other threats to 501(c)3 going on right now, including the potential decrease in contributions due to the tax law, that anyone would contemplate further disruptions to the sector. I called my senators and representatives and asked them to defend the Johnson Amendment – and I urge everyone else to do the same NOW!

  • Richard Brown

    I agree that the Johnson Amendment should not be repealed. But if you think for a moment that it protects our sector from politicization you are wrong. We are political. Don’t believe me? Try attending any nonprofit conference and expressing the view that the U.S. was right to pull out of the Paris climate accords. Try expressing the view that the Trump tax plan is good for the country (and for the sector). Try saying anything good about Donald Trump. Try saying anything positive about the NRA. Try expressing an opinion on any campus that runs contrary to the prevailing campus wisdom.

    Yes, the Johnson Amendment should be left alone, if for no other reason than our sector should not become even further politicized.

  • Robert Egger

    While my opinion, and those who want to be openly political is in the minority, it would be nice if alternative POV’s we’re included. Simply put, no matter what Johnson Amendment origin story you believe, they are all illegitimate, in that the political rights that nonprofits utilized for decades without any scandal, and that helped usher in the union/ FDR agenda that empowered workers and challenged corporate dominance were stolen from us without any hearings or testimony. Ever since then, too many nonprofits have come to believe, or follow the groupthink that our integrity must be “protected” by laws that keep us from speaking more openly to our funders, employees and volunteers about which candidates would limit the need for our work, or mitigate the need for charity if elected….versus those who only pour more gas on the fires we must then try to douse with diminishing donations and anemic advocacy. As a 30 year CEO who works day in and day out to alleviate hunger and unemployment, I’d rather elect a leader who works alongside me, not against me and the community. And for those who suggest that I “just need to start a C4”, I suggest that’s like telling a poor person to “just buy a Tesla” to get to work. We’re not funded to make change, launch C4’s and make significant political contributions as private citizens. The one thing we have IS our integrity, and I’d be proud to use mine to help elect new leaders who will help change America for the better, not just for the few. That said, I do respect the will of the majority, and admire Tim ,et al who work so diligently for what that believe.

  • Jim Cross

    To hear you tell it, nonprofits are so fortunate to have the government to protect them from the nefarious influences of political creatures. How did the milquetoast nonprofit directors and boards reject political influence before the beneficent Lyndon Johnson tacked his amendment onto a tax bill in 1954? It is ironic that the Johnson amendment was tacked on at the last minute and passed without debate. No one knew the impact at the time, but it was all about gagging LBJ’s political opponents. How about an honest conversation on the origins of the amendment, and the chilling effect it has had on speech? Religious leaders have been loathe to speak out on social and moral issues upon which their religious traditions have legitimate bearing, and we’re all poorer for it. All because of LBJ’s political maneuvering. How ironic.