Last year, NPQ extensively covered repeated attempts by Congress to repeal and weaken the “Johnson Amendment,” the law that since 1954 has shielded 501c3 organizations from partisan politicking. (Examples of that coverage can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.) The charitable, religious, and philanthropic communities united to defeat those attacks. But the threat has suddenly returned. To get the latest developments, Ruth McCambridge interviewed Tim Delaney, president of the National Council of Nonprofits, which continues to play a leading role in protecting nonprofits and foundations.
Ruth McCambridge: I’m sensing urgency and increased nervousness among nonprofits about a new threat to the Johnson Amendment, but I’m not seeing any legislative language. What’s up?
Tim Delaney: Yes, there is great urgency for nonprofits and foundations to engage immediately. Here’s why: The well-funded forces trying to politicize the 501c3 community against our will learned last year—thanks to engaged advocacy by charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations—that they cannot jam their desires through the process as a free-standing bill. So now they are trying to avoid a straight up-down vote by attaching their anti-Johnson Amendment language to the upcoming spending bill. That bill must pass by March 23rd to keep the federal government from running out of money and shutting down for a third time this year.
This “must-pass” bill is a magnet for policy riders on topics completely unrelated to spending as Representatives, Senators, and lobbyists all feel incredible pressure to attach their pet provisions onto this bill. Right now, as in right now, congressional leaders on both sides are wheeling and dealing trying to find the right combination of dollar amounts and policy riders to shift enough of the complex Rubik’s cube pieces into alignment to enact the “must-pass” spending bill for the rest of fiscal year 2018. We know that the House is pushing to include anti-Johnson Amendment language as a rider.
That underscores the urgency for all who care about charitable, religious, and philanthropic organizations. It’s time to immediately turn up the volume of opposition to the nefarious attempts to politicize 501c3 organizations. If we wait to see the actual legislative language, then it’s too late because a deal has been cut and the bad language inserted.
Ruth: If no legislative language has surfaced yet, which of the various approaches from last year do you think they will try to use this time? Totally repealing it, substantially weakening it, or blocking enforcement of it against just religious institutions?
Tim: On the one hand, it’s unclear at this moment which version they will try to attach. On the other hand, it really doesn’t matter, because each of those approaches would have created the same harm to:
- Individuals, by taking away the safe sanctuary of houses of worship and charitable nonprofits where people can escape the toxic partisanship that bedevils our country;
- Organizations, by diverting attention from missions to promote politicians (which circles back to harm individuals who will be receiving fewer benefits from that mission-related work); and
- Society, by flooding elections with billions of dollars of secret—and deductible –campaign contributions through newly-politicized (and even sham or temporary pop-up) houses of worship and charitable nonprofits.
I can go on and on about the many ways that politicizing nonprofits and foundations would create harm, but it’s probably easiest to look at various ways posted on www.GiveVoice.org.