CGP is closely monitoring legislation that would weaken or repeal the so-called “Johnson Amendment,” a critical provision presently in the federal tax code that has protected charitable nonprofits, religious congregations, and foundations from political partisanship for over 50 years.  Specifically, current tax law requires that a 501(c)(3) organization “does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”  President Trump and some Republican leaders in Congress, however, oppose the Johnson Amendment and have vowed to modify the provision this year.

Although Republicans have introduced three separate “stand-alone” bills in the 115th Congress that would weaken (S. 264, H.R. 781) or repeal (H.R. 172) the Johnson Amendment, such a change is more likely to move as a “policy rider” on must-pass legislation such as a government funding bill.  For example, the House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2018 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill on July 13, 2017, and this legislation, as approved by the full committee, includes troubling language that would seek to prevent the IRS from enforcing the Johnson Amendment. 

Specifically, section 116 of this appropriations bill would make it very difficult for the IRS to investigate claims that churches have violated the law by requiring consent from the IRS Commissioner for each investigation and notification to two committees in Congress before such investigations commence.  The first requirement would slow down, if not functionally halt, the pursuit of 501(c)(3) violations, while the second requirement would politicize these investigations.  Additionally, although the Johnson Amendment applies to all tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, section 116 of the appropriations bill would apply only to houses of worship.  By giving houses of worship special treatment in the enforcement of IRS restrictions, section 116 raises serious legal concerns under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

At the July 13th Appropriations Committee mark-up, Democrats did sponsor an amendment to remove this troubling language from the appropriations bill.  All committee Democrats and two committee Republicans voted in favor of the amendment but it was not enough to overcome Republican support.  As this appropriations bill moves to the House floor for consideration, it will remain very difficult to remove this language from the bill.    

 

 

Read CGP's Position on the Johnson Amendment