Policy Update: The Johnson Amendment

The Johnson Amendment is a 60-year-old law that prevents 501c3 organizations from endorsing or financially supporting political candidates. President Trump has indicated his desire to repeal the amendment, and several bills have been introduced in Congress to repeal or severely weaken the law.

On May 4, 2017, the President issued an Executive Order related to the Johnson Amendment. 

Community Response

A nationwide coalition of 501(c)(3) organizations, made up of charitable nonprofits, including religious institutions, philanthropy serving organizations and foundations have responded by signing The Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship, which makes a strong statement in support of nonpartisanship and urges those who have vowed to repeal or weaken this vital protection to leave existing law in place for nonprofit organizations and the people they serve. GWP has also signed this community letter in support of nonpartisanship.

The United Philanthropy Forum  (of which GWP is a member) supports the continued full enforcement of current law that prohibits 501(c)(3) charitable organizations from endorsing, opposing or contributing to political candidates and engaging in partisan campaign activities—also known as the “Johnson Amendment.”   

The National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO) sent a letter to Congressional leaders, arguing that charitable activities should remain non-partisan.  They expressed concern that permitting even limited partisan activity would have adverse impacts on their ability to  ensure charitable resources are being used for charitable purposes, thereby preserving trust in the integrity of public charities.  

According to the Council on Foundations, if the Johnson Amendment were repealed, 501(c)(3) organizations could become entities that are given tax-deductible donations for the purpose of participating in the electoral process, and donors would be completely shielded from disclosure—hindering transparency. 501(c)(3)s would be able to participate in influencing elections without disclosing their donors as long as “no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation.  Effectively, this would completely open the door to endorsing or opposing specific political candidates, while still maintaining restrictions for charities to lobby on behalf of issues and legislation.

Independent Sector Statement - Independent Sector is troubled by any proposal to repeal the Johnson Amendment, a law that prohibits all 501(c)(3) organizations, including religious organizations, from engaging in political activity or endorsing candidates. For 60 years, this law has played an essential role in maintaining public confidence in, and support for, the charitable community. It ensures that charities remain a nonpartisan haven, separate from politics, in our civil society.

National Council of Nonprofits Statement - The National Council of Nonprofits has long held that the public’s overall trust in the sector would diminish and thus limit the effectiveness of the nonprofit community if individual 501(c)(3) organizations came to be regarded as Democratic charities or Republican charities instead of the nonpartisan problem solvers that they are.