Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved an appropriations bill (H.R. 6147) that includes a provision effectively prohibiting the IRS from enforcing the Johnson Amendment specifically in religious organizations. The latest House-approved provision directs the IRS not to use any of its resources to enforce claims of political activity undertaken by churches.
Tim Delaney, CEO of National Council of Nonprofits, has written a good roundup of recent action on this bill -- the third attempt in the past few years to weaken Johnson Amendment protections. The Senate is expected to take up the House appropriations bill the last week of July. While the Senate has resisted challenges to the Johnson Amendment in the past, it is essential that the charitable sector continue communicating its support of the Johnson Amendment.
GWP’s board has endorsed a position in favor of preserving the Johnson Amendment as follows:
“GWP supports the rights of charitable organizations to continue their involvement in public policy, including engaging in public debates, promoting education efforts, and conducting issue-focused advocacy. To ensure that nonprofits conduct these activities in a nonpartisan manner, GWP supports preserving the Johnson Amendment. GWP opposes permitting public charities and other charitable organizations to endorse candidates, contribute to political campaigns or engage in partisan campaign activities. It also opposes any additional limitations on the ability of nonprofit organizations to participate in the public policy process.”
Members are encouraged to call, email, or tweet Senator Casey and Senator Toomey and ask them to oppose all efforts to add an anti-Johnson Amendment provision to the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill. According to the Council on Foundations, private foundations may lobby regarding the Johnson Amendment. Below is the Council’s statement:
"Treasury Regulation 53.4945-2(d)(3) confers a self-defense exception to private foundations for communications with a legislative body regarding legislation that affects the “existence of the private foundation, its powers and duties, its tax-exempt status or the deductibility of contributions to such foundation.” It is the Council’s position that a private foundation’s ability or inability to participate in political activity falls within this self-defense exception as this type of activity is directly related to its powers and duties. Accordingly, if a private foundation wanted to support or oppose changes in the law that would affect this activity, including changes or repeal of the Johnson amendment by reaching out to legislators, that action would fall within the self-defense exception. However, the Council respects its members’ own determinations regarding legal issues, and individual policies or practices related to lobbying activity. We encourage members to consult with their own legal counsel regarding any questions."