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Exposing the Tax Scam, One Year In: Johnson Amendment repeal, the bullet we have to keep dodging

It’s been one year since the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, legislation that was in essence a scam—it served as a massive transfer of wealth from working people to the already-rich and corporations while being sold as paying for itself.  Public Citizen is exposing the truth behind the bill by publishing a series of blogs this week examining the serious consequences of the law. But, as we examine last year’s tax cut bill, it’s also worth remembering what, thanks to hard work from organizations and people across the country, including Public Citizen’s members, didn’t make it into the bill that would have made it even worse.

The initial draft of the tax giveaway package contained a very pernicious proposal that would have gutted the Johnson Amendment, the law that keeps 501(c)(3)s from doing partisan political activity like endorsing candidates for office. Without that prohibition, wealthy donors would be able to go to their local church pastor and say “You want my donation to help with a new parish hall? Then I want to hear you give an endorsement of my choice for mayor from the pulpit on Sunday.” Even under the Johnson Amendment repeal language that was in the initial drafts of the tax package, which was billed as being “limited” in scope, the head of a large university would be able to tweet endorsements to thousands of followers who trust the university’s opinion.

As bad as that partisan manipulation would be, the impacts of repealing the Johnson Amendment could even be worse than that– many new nonprofit groups would immediately form specifically to take advantage of the new rules in order to do electioneering work. And to top it all off, the wealthy donor would end up getting a tax break for boosting the candidate of their choice, and their name would not be disclosed to voters. Our Lady of the Perpetual Tax Break could become the next big dark money engine.

Those consequences and many others are why nonprofit and religious groups a year ago were so united in opposition to weakening or repealing the Johnson Amendment as part of the tax package. Through the activism of these groups and their members, and assisted by an arcane procedural rule, the Johnson Amendment repeal language thankfully didn’t make it into the final Tax Cuts and Jobs Act bill.

But that doesn’t mean Republicans have stopped trying to repeal the block on political endorsements by (c)(3) nonprofits. In fact, only last week the Chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, Representative Kevin Brady, put out a last-gasp tax bill he hopes to pass in the lame duck session that contained this same Johnson Amendment-destroying language that we successfully kept out of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act bill one year ago. The House could vote on the bill this week. 109 groups, including Public Citizen, just signed a letter making it clear that these kinds of changes are unacceptable.

Though we fought to keep it out of the law that was passed one year ago, we must remain vigilant. The introduction of Johnson Amendment repeal in Brady’s bill is another indication of how much influence a very few people seeking more power have and how much they want this change. However, with YOUR help, we can block changes to the Johnson Amendment’s vital protections! Call (202) 224-3121 to be connected to your U.S. Representative and tell her or him to oppose any bill that contains harmful changes to the Johnson Amendment.