Johnson Amendment

CGP opposes efforts that would politicize the charitable nonprofit and philanthropic community by repealing or weakening current federal tax law protections, known as the Johnson Amendment, that prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations from endorsing, opposing, or contributing to political candidates.

Nonpartisanship is a cornerstone principle that has strengthened the public’s trust of the charitable community. Under current law, in exchange for enjoying tax-exempt status and the ability to receive tax-deductible contributions, 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes religious organizations, agree to not engage in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” CGP believes this provision of the law protects the integrity and independence of charitable nonprofits and foundations. It also shields the entire 501(c)(3) community against the rancor of partisan politics so the charitable community can be a safe haven where individuals of all beliefs come together to solve community problems free from partisan divisions. It screens out doubts and suspicions regarding ulterior partisan motives of charitable organizations, as undoubtedly would occur if even just a few charitable organizations engaged in partisan politics. Nonpartisan credibility is also critical to the ability of 501(c)(3) organizations to partner with elected officials of all parties at the local, state, and federal levels to address community needs.

Under current law, charitable nonprofits, including religious organizations, are free to speak on important matters of the day and advocate on public policy issues and legislation. Even private foundations, while barred from most lobbying activities, are free to engage in public debates, promote public education efforts, and fund a wide range of issue-focused activities. The relevant language in Section 501(c)(3) merely prohibits partisan campaign intervention, defined to include endorsing or opposing candidates for public office, publishing or distributing statements for or against candidates, or using tax-deductible and other resources to support partisan campaign activities.

Weakening the law by allowing leaders of individual 501(c)(3) organizations to endorse candidates for public office and engage in some partisan electioneering activities would damage the integrity and effectiveness of all charitable organizations and spawn litigation as inventive partisans seek to expand gray areas in the proposed legislation. Repealing the Johnson Amendment would damage the treasury as people take tax deductions for political contributions funneled through public charities, undercut fair elections by providing a loophole to avoid campaign contribution disclosure laws, and empower politicians to exert pressure for access to foundation assets and charitable funds for their own partisan campaigns rather than for the public good.

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