Nonprofits Vigorously Object to Financial Services Subcommittee Efforts to Politicize Houses of Worship


WASHINGTON–()–In response to the attempt to sneak through a change to longstanding
substantive law by including it as an extraneous rider to a spending
bill, Tim
Delaney
, President and CEO of the National
Council of Nonprofits
, issued the following statement:

“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.

Current
law protects the integrity and independence of charitable nonprofits
,
including houses of worship, and foundations, by shielding the entire
501(c)(3) community from the rancor of partisan politics. Under current
law, nonprofits can and must refuse to endorse politicians and decline
requests to syphon charitable assets away from mission to fund political
campaigns. The action of the Financial Services Appropriations
Subcommittee, however, takes away that ironclad protection for houses of
worship, potentially subjecting tens of thousands of congregations to
overzealous solicitations from politicians, paid consultants, and donors
who can claim that the law won’t be enforced against them. Every
charitable nonprofit will suffer from a loss of public respect and trust
fostered by this inappropriate rider to an appropriations bill.

“As we have seen with many 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations in the
aftermath of the Citizens United decision, mission no longer
matters when partisan, election-related interests are involved. But the
difference here is that donors will now be given a charitable tax
deduction for securing candidate endorsements from previously
nonpartisan charitable nonprofits.”

What the Public Thinks

The vast majority of Americans and charitable nonprofits, houses of
worship, and foundations firmly believe that 501(c)(3) organizations
should remain dedicated solely to the public good and should stay away
from raw partisan politics:

  • A poll conducted in March 2017 found that nearly three
    out of four American voters
    (72 percent) want to keep current
    rules protecting 501(c)(3) organizations from partisan political
    activity. A separate survey conducted in February by the National
    Association of Evangelicals found that 89
    percent of pastors
    oppose the idea of clergy mixing partisan
    politics and religion by endorsing candidates from the pulpit. These
    results are consistent with numerous polls conducted over several
    years.
  • Almost 100
    national and state religious and denominational organizations

    wrote in a letter to Congress stressing: “People of faith do not want
    partisan political fights infiltrating their houses of worship. Houses
    of worship are spaces for members of religious communities to come
    together, not be divided along political lines; faith ought to be a
    source of connection and community, not division and discord.”
  • The Community
    Letter in Support of Nonprofit Nonpartisanship
    , signed by more
    than 4,700 charitable, religious, and philanthropic organizations from
    all 50 states, demonstrates strong opposition to proposals to repeal
    or weaken the Johnson Amendment. (To see the organizations that
    signed, visit www.GiveVoice.org.)

Background

The Johnson Amendment provides that organizations organized under
Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 cannot endorse or
oppose candidates for office, make campaign contributions, or coordinate
activities with candidates, PACs, and political parties. The amendment
was offered by then-Senate Minority Leader Lyndon Johnson to the Tax
Reform Act of 1954. It was signed into law by President Eisenhower, and
re-enacted and strengthened in bills signed by President Reagan.

The rider in the Financial
Services FY2018 appropriations bill
(Section 116) would prevent the
federal government from enforcing the law even when there are egregious
violations of the Johnson Amendment unless (1) the highest ranking
official at the IRS consents to a determination of unlawful conduct, (2)
politicians at 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.

The House Financial Services Subcommittee approved the bill today on a
party-line vote, despite serious
objections lodged by 50 organizations
representing charitable
nonprofits, foundations, religious denominations, and others.

About the National Council of Nonprofits

The National Council of Nonprofits (Council of Nonprofits) is a trusted
resource and proven advocate for America’s charitable nonprofits.
Connecting the policy dots across all levels and branches of
governments, the Council of Nonprofits keeps nonprofits informed and
empowered to create a positive public policy environment that best
supports nonprofits in advancing their missions. Working with and
through the nation’s largest network of nonprofits – with 25,000-plus
organizational members – we identify emerging trends, share proven
practices, and promote solutions that benefit charitable nonprofits and
the communities they serve. Learn more at www.councilofnonprofits.org.

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