It was way back in February 2017 that, at the National Prayer Breakfast, newly installed President Donald Trump stated he’d “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.” Super: Another way to inject money into politics. NPR’s explainer tells you about the amendment, including who wants it gone:
Any 501c3 organization (nonprofits, churches) is prohibited from engaging in political activity that…well, here’s the short and sweet IRS page on all that. Basically, don’t be for or against anyone or partisan, but focus on voter engagement and education.
The focus in February was on churches, because many churches are activist. Right now, a donation to a church is tax-deductible, but a gift to a political candidate is not. Dumping the Johnson Amendment makes it easy to turn a political gift into a tax-deductible donation.
Two things give me nightmares:
1) Anyone and everyone can start a nonprofit, and BOOM! All political gifts are now tax-deductible, from my $25 supporting my state senator to the Koch brothers’ $1M trying to unseat Chuck Schumer. Doesn’t help us small donors much, but wow…really good news for millionaires and billionaires who were supporting candidates and causes through superPACs and such.
2) Because this isn’t just a expense now but a tax-deductible gift, will this reduce the amount of money wealthy folks have available to give to non-political charitable causes? I don’t doubt the philanthropic motives or desire of these people to address pressing issues as funding partners with nonprofits, but no one has unlimited money.
3) Public trust: Thanks to a few scandals the past few years, the public’s trust in nonprofits has taken a hit. If the Johnson Amendment goes away, now donors have to wonder what (if any) political bent a nonprofit has before they donate. Will my gift to the general fund be used for that political work instead of helping kids? What if I like their work saving the sea turtles but am not keen on the relationship they have with our congressman? If I were a donor, I’d feel like I needed to do more investigating before making a gift. It’s now not just about how good you are at your core mission and financial management, but now I need to also know what political activities you’re engaging in and for or against who, or what issue.
Not sure a pastor’s unlimited freedom of speech (which s/he already has anyway when s/he isn’t on the job) is worth all this.
And by the way, nearly 4,500 organizations are calling on Congress to ditch this dumb idea.