Monday, November 20, 2017
Chronicle of Philanthropy op-ed: The House Tax Bill Could Be the End of Charities as We Know Them, by Roger Colinvaux (Catholic):
If the tax bill passed by the House of Representatives becomes law, partisan politics would overtake the nonprofit world, casting institutions designed to promote the public good into the depraved den of identity politics and selfish motives. Charities would use tax-subsidized contributions to favor or oppose political candidates at the behest of wealthy, anonymous donors with devastating results for charities and democracy.
This is a seismic moment for the conduct of politics in America. The House bill must be changed.
Since 1954, charities have been barred from getting involved in political campaigns by a rule known as the "Johnson Amendment." It takes that name from Lyndon Johnson, who (for selfish reasons) got the rule enacted, but only after decades of debate on the issue.
Donald Trump vowed to destroy this rule at the behest of some evangelical churches that want to endorse candidates from the pulpit. Nonprofit advocacy groups responded forcefully, arguing that repeal would open the door for charities to become conduits for millions of dollars of tax-deductible dark-money political contributions, paving the way for the "charity PAC." This would occur because if the Johnson Amendment’s prohibition on politicking is removed, a charity — and only a charity — would give political donors secrecy and a lucrative tax deduction for their political speech.
Perhaps getting the message, House Republicans now propose to relax, not repeal, the Johnson Amendment. The bill just passed by the House of Representatives would let charities make political-campaign statements, but only in the "ordinary course" of their regular activities and only if the cost of the speech is not more than a small, incremental expense." According to the sponsors of this compromise, these limits ensure that "the organization’s primary function remains charitable or religious in nature." Thus, the sponsors believe, there would be no risk that charities would become PACs or that taxpayers would subsidize political campaigns through charitable contributions. ...
The Johnson Amendment has served the nonprofit world and American society well. Fortunately, the Senate bill introduced last week does not change the Johnson Amendment, so there is still a chance to defeat this measure. It is urgent that Congress be persuaded to leave the Johnson Amendment alone and protect the longstanding independence of charitable organizations and the integrity of the democratic process.