December 14, 2017; Washington Post
The Washington Post is reporting that the final GOP tax bill will not include a repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which is a provision that has been in effect since 1954 and prohibits partisan political activities by 501c3 nonprofits, including houses of worship. This protects charitable nonprofits from partisan pressures while still leaving room for nonpartisan organizing and advocacy.
As readers will remember, the House had, in its version of the tax bill, included the repeal applicable to all nonprofits and houses of worship, but the Senate did not include it, so it might have gone either way in the reconciliation process.
Still, it is worth noting that President Trump appears to remain committed to the repeal after having vowed to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment at last February’s National Prayer Breakfast.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, confirmed the provision was gone, saying, “I’m pleased to announce that Democrats successfully prevented the repeal of the Johnson Amendment from being jammed into any final Republican tax deal.” He also said that they would “continue to fight all attempts to eliminate this critical provision.”
The provision was made vulnerable to Democratic challenge by the “Byrd Rule,” which allows any provision of the tax bill that does not have to do with changes in federal deficits or surpluses, or any items the Senate Parliamentarian judges to be “extraneous matter,” to be eliminated.
Of course, nonprofit infrastructure groups have put significant effort into having the repeal eliminated from the tax bill, as is reflected in this “Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship” to express their strong opposition to the proposal to politicize the 501c3 community. Still, Tim Delaney of the National Council of Nonprofits warns that the fight is not over.
A similar attempt to weaken the Johnson Amendment, he points out, was slipped into the House-passed appropriations bill, and we anticipate that additional attempts will be made to slip policy riders into the next appropriations bill. The good news is that all of the work done up until now has been designed to make that task even more difficult for the other side because we’ve all educated so many lawmakers, the media, and the public along the way.
There remains much in this bill that ought to be scrapped. As Delaney writes, “We strongly urge every Representative and Senator to vote ‘No’ on this bill and start over.”—Ruth McCambridge