We are closely watching an emerging issue of serious concern to the nonprofit community that has the potential to destabilize nonprofits — including churches and religious institutions — by removing important laws that protect both nonprofits and the public.
President Trump has vowed to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which draws a clear line between nonprofits and electioneering.
The Johnson Amendment
(after Lyndon Johnson who introduced it) prohibits 501(c)(3) nonprofits from endorsing or opposing candidates for office and from any other partisan activity. It was passed in 1954 by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican.
Currently, for instance, nonprofits can register voters, but must allow people to register for whichever party (or no party) they wish. Nonprofits can take positions on propositions, but cannot, for instance, endorse either Trump or Clinton for president.
While the Sacramento Bee notes
that some religious conservatives have wanted pastors to be allowed to endorse candidates, polls show that 80% of Americans think it inappropriate for pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit.
We are concerned because having nonprofits and congregations engage in electioneering would confuse the public about the charitable, nonpartisan role of nonprofits. It would allow individuals to pass their political contributions through nonprofits and obtain tax deductions for supporting a political party (currently donations to political parties are not tax-deductible). Nonprofits could be pressured by donors to abandon nonpartisanship and endorse candidates for mayor, state office, etc. Nonprofits could lose our legal and actual stance as benefiting the public, not someone running for office.
We nonprofits are trusted in part because we are resolutely nonpartisan. Those who support our work rely on us to use their donations to help our communities, not engage in electioneering. These proposals would benefit politicians and paid political operatives, not the people and communities we exist as nonprofits to serve.
We will keep you informed about this and other developing federal issues as they relate to nonprofits. Please see “Towards a Strategic Nonprofit Stance Under the Trump Administration”
and our 2017 Policy Framework
for more on CalNonprofits’ policy viewpoint.
And as always, we're eager to hear your thoughts as we go forward together.