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Letter Opposing Repeal of Johnson Amendment

Endorsement
PDF icon 2018-12-17hr88letterfinal.pdf

 

Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association were among 109 organizations sending a letter to the House of Representatives, urging them not to repeal or weaken the “Johnson Amendment” that currently ensures that tax-exempt organizations do not support or oppose candidates for political office. The text of the letter is included as a PDF above, and reproduced below.

Dear Representative:
 
The 109 undersigned organizations write to strongly oppose the inclusion of any language in H.R. 88, the tax package that may be debated soon by the House, that would repeal or weaken the longstanding federal law that is sometimes referred to as the “Johnson Amendment.” In particular, we oppose Section 507 of the proposed Retirement, Savings, and Other Tax Relief Act of 2018 and urge its removal from the legislation. This provision would gut the Johnson Amendment, transforming charitable organizations into tax-exempt partisan campaign organizations.
 
The Johnson Amendment protects the integrity and independence of tax-exempt organizations, including charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations, by ensuring they do not endorse or oppose candidates for public office. Americans overwhelmingly support the existing law because they do not want our charities and houses of worship to be torn apart by partisan campaign politics.
 
Section 407, however, would allow all 501(c)(3) organizations to make statements endorsing or opposing candidates for public office so long as those statements are made in the “ordinary course” of carrying out their tax-exempt purpose and do not incur more than “de minimis incremental expenses.” Although section 507 might appear to be a narrow exemption to current law, it is actually so broad that it would make the Johnson Amendment nearly meaningless.
 
Under this provision, any charitable nonprofit organization could endorse a candidate in all the activities it carries out and in all the materials it shares, as long as there is ostensibly another purpose for engaging in those activities or creating those materials. An organization could meet this test even if endorsement activity permeates throughout and even dominates the tax-exempt organization’s work.
 
This provision would allow donors to fund partisan campaign activities and receive a charitable tax deduction, something that is not available to donors to candidate committees, PACs, or even social welfare organizations. The Joint Committee on Taxation’s analysis of this proposal projects that over 10 years donors would use this tax deduction to knowingly divert $7.7 billion from the public treasury to newly politicized “charitable” organizations that endorse or oppose political candidates.
 
The provision is also problematic because it includes a vague and undefined test that is subject to IRS discretion. To determine whether tax-exempt organizations are complying with the law, the IRS would have to determine whether an endorsement occurred during the “ordinary course” of carrying out their tax-exempt purpose and whether it amounted to “de minimis incremental expenses.” This is particularly troubling when it comes to houses of worship. To determine whether a house of worship meets this test, the IRS will have to investigate its books, activities, sermons, and correspondence. By inviting that type of scrutiny of internal documents and judgments about religion, this bill actually threatens, rather than upholds, the autonomy and independence of houses of worship.
 
Under the current law, which has been in place for more than six decades, charitable nonprofits, houses of worship and foundations have maintained robust free speech rights and can speak out on any political and social issue that they see as important. They currently can engage in public debate on any issue, and even, with a few boundaries, lobby on specific legislation. Moreover, in the election arena, they can – on a nonpartisan basis – host candidate forums, hold voter registration drives, encourage people to vote, help transport people to the polls, and invite candidates to speak. They simply cannot endorse or oppose candidates and maintain their special tax-exempt status.
 
The vast majority of charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations support keeping the Johnson Amendment as is because it protects all of us from politicians’ and donors’ demands for partisan endorsements and from the diversion of charitable assets to campaign coffers. Indeed, 106 religious and denominational organizations, more than 5,800 charitable nonprofit organizations, more than 4,500 faith leaders, and state charities officials have all written to Congress to urge it to protect the Johnson Amendment.
 
The Johnson Amendment serves as a valuable safeguard that protects our tax-exempt organizations and our political process. Therefore, we firmly urge you to oppose any language in H.R. 88 that would weaken the current law.
 
Sincerely,
 
  • ACCSES
  • African American Ministers In Action
  • Alliance of Baptists
  • American Association of University Women (AAUW)
  • American Atheists
  • American Baptist Churches, USA
  • American Baptist Home Mission Societies
  • American Conference of Cantors
  • American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
  • American Humanist Association
  • American Jewish Committee
  • Americans for the Arts
  • Americans for the Arts Action Fund
  • Americans United for Separation of Church and State
  • Anti-Defamation League
  • Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists
  • B’nai B’rith International
  • Baptist Center for Ethics
  • Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
  • Baptist Women in Ministry
  • Bend the Arc: Jewish Action
  • BoardSource
  • BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz
  • Bright Lines Project
  • Campaign for Accountability
  • Campaign Legal Center
  • Catholics for Choice
  • Center for American Progress
  • Center for Inquiry
  • Center for Media and Democracy
  • Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
  • Common Cause
  • Congregation of Our Lady of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces
  • Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
  • Council on Foundations
  • Democracy 21
  • DignityUSA
  • Discipes Center for Public Witness
  • Disciples Justice Action Network
  • End Citizens United
  • Equal Partners in Faith
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • Faith in Public Life
  • Franciscan Action Network
  • Freedom From Religion Foundation
  • Friends Committee on National Legislation
  • Girl Scouts of the USA
  • Girls Inc.
  • Goodwill Industries International, Inc.
  • Habitat for Humanity International
  • Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.
  • Hispanic Federation
  • Impact Fund
  • Independent Sector
  • Interfaith Alliance
  • International Council of Community Churches
  • International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
  • Jewish Council for Public Affairs
  • Land Trust Alliance
  • League of American Orchestras
  • League of Women Voters of the United States
  • LUCHA Ministries, Inc.
  • Meals on Wheels America
  • Medical Students for Choice
  • Men of Reform Judaism
  • Missionary Oblates USP
  • MOVI, Money Out Voters In
  • Muslim Public Affairs Council
  • Muslims for Progressive Value
  • National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
  • National Coalition of American Nuns
  • National Council of Churches
  • National Council of Jewish Women
  • National Council of Nonprofits
  • National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
  • National Women’s Law Center
  • NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
  • New Ways Ministry
  • Oxfam America
  • People For the American Way
  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America
  • Progressive National Baptist Convention
  • Public Citizen
  • Rabbinical Assembly
  • Reconstructing Judaism
  • Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
  • Religious Institute
  • Secular Coalition for America
  • T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
  • The Arc of the United States
  • The Church Network
  • The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations
  • The Jewish Federations of North America
  • The Patriotic Millionaires
  • The Prentice Foundation
  • The United Methodist Church - General Board of Church and Society
  • U.S. PIRG
  • Union for Reform Judaism
  • Unitarian Universalist Association
  • United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
  • United Philanthropy Forum
  • United To Amend
  • Voices for Progress
  • Women of Reform Judaism
  • Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER)
  • Women’s League for Conservative Judaism
  • YWCA USA