Serving Nonprofits. Strengthening West Virginia.

Nonprofit Nonpartisanship Under Attack

The West Virginia Nonprofit Association joins the National Council of Nonprofits and other charitable organizations in opposing any effort to repeal the Johnson Amendment.

Since 1954, the Johnson Amendment has barred charitable nonprofits from engaging in partisan political activities, such as endorsing a candidate, while still allowing nonprofits to advocate for policies that help their clients and move their mission forward. Recent efforts at the federal level put the Johnson Amendment at risk. And if the Johnson Amendment is repealed, the trust that forms the foundation of the nonprofit sector would likely go with it. Nonprofits are safe spaces where people can turn for services, support, comfort, spiritual guidance and inspiration regardless of their political beliefs. Our clients should not worry if they will get the services and support they require if their partisan views do not align with a nonprofit’s views. And our donors should feel confident that charitable contributions go toward advancing the mission, not toward advancing the careers of politicians or lining the pockets of political consultants.

 

11/17/17 Update: Politicizing the 501(c)3 Community by Weakening the Johnson Amendment

The House bill contains language (at Section 5201) that would effectively erase most of the protections in the Johnson Amendment that have existed since 1954. (See www.GiveVoice.org for more details.) Efforts to remove that language in the House Committee were unsuccessful. During the House floor debate, Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) stated that the issue in the bill “that scares me the most is the repeal of the so-called Johnson Amendment.” The new language would politicize the 501(c)(3) community by allowing charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations to engage in partisan politicking for or against candidates if such action is “in the ordinary course of the organization’s regular and customary activities in carrying out its exempt purpose,” and it incurs no more than “de minimis” incremental expenses in doing so. Read More
 
What You Can Do:
Call your Senators and tweet your Senators to tell them not to politicize charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations, and to insist that the final tax reform bill does not touch the Johnson Amendment. If you get a chance, let your Representatives know that Section 5201 of the House bill is an outrageous affront to the nonprofit community and must be deleted from the final tax reform bill. And if you haven’t done so already, sign onto the Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship and join more than 5,500 charitable nonprofits, foundations, and other organizations in support of retaining current law. See who has already signed the letter.

7/14/17, Update Re: Vote on Appropriations Amendment
Earlier this week, we let you know that the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services approved an appropriations bill that included an extraneous provision that would significantly weaken enforcement of the law on nonprofit nonpartisanship. Yesterday, the amendment to strike this section failed by a vote of 24 to 28.

National Council of Nonprofits President and CEO Tim Delaney released a statement. Read excerpts below or read the entire statement here.

“The partisan provision in the Financial Services bill erects insurmountable barriers that will prevent law enforcement officials at the IRS from stopping houses of worship from turning over their collection plates to campaign coffers and converting religious broadcast programming into explicit campaign ads that are exempt from campaign finance laws.

“This isn’t just a solution in search of a problem; it is a blind response to a narrow interest that ignores the will of those being hurt, as expressed by nearly one hundred religious denominations and organizations, more than 3,000 religious leaders, 89 percent of evangelical pastors, more than 4,800 charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations and 72 percent of American voters.

“The Johnson Amendment has never stopped a discussion of the issues of the day. Rather, it has been a vital protection for nonprofit missions, religious and otherwise, for more than 60 years. Being able to point to current law when saying “no” to politicians and their operatives has enabled nonprofits to focus on serving their communities, rather than catering to the desires of political candidates and their powerful donors… We hope that those in Congress will come to their senses and remove this damaging and unconstitutional rider before it advances any further.”

7/10/17, Update Re: Calling Your Congressman
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services approved an appropriations bill that includes an extraneous provision (rider) that would significantly weaken enforcement of the law on nonprofit nonpartisanship, the language in Section 501(c)(3) sometimes called the Johnson Amendment. The full House Appropriations Committee reportedly could consider the appropriations bill as soon as Wednesday, July 12.

The rider, Section 116 of the House Financial Services and General Government FY2018 Appropriations bill, would prevent the IRS from spending any funds to make a final determination that a house of worship or its affiliate has violated the Johnson Amendment unless the IRS meets three conditions: (1) the Commissioner of the IRS consents to a determination of unlawful conduct; (2) politicians on the House and Senate tax committees are given 30-days’ notice of the law-enforcement determination; and (3) an additional 90-days’ notice is provided before enforcement can commence. According to Newsweek, Section 116 “would make it exponentially more difficult to enforce” even the most blatant violations of the Johnson Amendment. The rider is fatally flawed in that it would erect unconstitutional and unreasonable hurdles on enforcing the law that ensures nonpartisanship. Tim Delaney, President & CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, has an excellent article in Nonprofit Quarterly explaining why this provision is a threat to all 501(c)(3) nonprofits.

7/7/17, Update Re: Rider on Spending Bill
An extraneous rider has been added to a spending bill that would make it more difficult for the IRS to enforce the Johnson Amendment. In response to this rider attempt, the West Virginia Nonprofit Association supports comments from Tim Delaney, President and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits:

“Charitable nonprofits, including houses of worship, and foundations vigorously object to any and all efforts to weaken the protections in tax law that prevent politicians, their operatives, and donors from demanding political endorsements and campaign contributions. The extraneous rider approved in the House Financial Services Subcommittee today would impose unconstitutional and unreasonable hurdles on enforcing the law that ensures nonpartisanship, and must be removed from the bill known as the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2018…”

Learn more about this rider and it’s potential consequences:


5/14/17, Update Re: Trump’s Executive Order
On May 4th, President Trump issued this executive order. But the clearest thing about this action is its lack of clarity: the executive order does not repeal the Johnson Amendment, and the legal ramifications for charities and churches is unclear with regard to other applicable legal requirements. Our position remains the same: we nonprofits are trusted in part because we are resolutely nonpartisan. Those who support our work rely on us to use their donations to help our communities, not engage in electioneering. These proposals would benefit politicians and paid political operatives, not the people and communities we exist as nonprofits to serve. We join other nonprofit organizations across the country to encourage Congress to maintain these important distinctions between partisanship and faith and charitable organizations.

Background

For more than 60 years, an important provision in the federal tax code has successfully protected charitable nonprofits, religious congregations, and foundations from being hounded by politicians, political operatives, and paid political consultants seeking financial contributions, endorsements, and more. That provision (pejoratively called the “Johnson Amendment” by partisans) is being threatened by both President Trump, who vowed at the National Prayer Breakfast that he intends to “get rid of and totally destroy” the protection, and legislation in Congress seeking to completely repeal (H.R.172) or substantially weaken it (S.264; H.R.781). Those promoting the three bills couch them as attempts to promote religious freedom. But the bills would have the effect of politicizing and thereby erasing the public’s high trust in charities, religious congregations, and foundations to benefit politicians and paid political consultants.

The National Council of Nonprofits issued a statement expressing “strong opposition” to these changes. “Nonpartisanship is vital to the work of charitable nonprofits. It enables organizations to address community challenges, and invites the problem-solving skills of all residents, without the distractions of party labels and the caustic partisanship that is bedeviling our country. Indeed, current law is the reason that charitable nonprofits are safe havens from politics, a place where people can come together to actually solve community problems rather than just posture and remain torn apart.” The WVNPA agrees and supports the position of the National Council of Nonprofits and other national organizations and state associations who have signed on to fight the weakening or elimination of this important protection.

We will continue to inform you about the latest updates on this important issue. In the meantime, visit the links below to learn more.

Protecting Nonprofit Nonpartisanship, National Council of Nonprofits
Why Is Remaining Nonpartisan So Important…And So at Risk Now?, National Council of Nonprofits
Protecting Nonprofit Nonpartisanship Infographic, National Council of Nonprofits

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