March 30, 2017
Public Citizen * Independent Sector
National Poll Finds That Americans Support Keeping Johnson Amendment to Protect Nonprofit Nonpartisanship
Majority of Trump and Clinton Voters Believe Johnson Amendment Should Remain Law
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new national poll finds that 72 percent of American voters want to keep current rules prohibiting 501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in partisan political activity.
The poll, conducted from March 6 to March 8 by TargetPoint Consulting, asked 800 registered voters whether the federal law, known as the Johnson Amendment, should be changed or kept in place. There was strong support across all political identifications, with 66 percent of Donald Trump voters and 78 percent of Hillary Clinton voters saying the ban on political activity should be kept.
In 1954, U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson introduced an amendment to the tax code to create a legal separation between 501(c)(3) organizations and electoral politics. The law prohibits charities, including religious organizations, from directly or indirectly supporting or opposing any candidate. If they do, they risk losing their tax-exempt status.
The Johnson Amendment is narrowly tailored to restrict charitable organizations’ ability to engage in direct political activity. It does not restrict their free speech or capacity to participate in public policy. Charitable organizations remain able to advocate around mission-driven issues that impact our communities and our nation.
“Charitable organizations are among the most trusted entities in the United States,” said Allison Grayson, director of policy development and analysis at Independent Sector. “That public trust demands that 501(c)(3) public charities remain above the political fray, advocating and informing policymakers but not engaging in partisan political activity.”
“Charities and religious organizations are rightly insulated from partisan manipulation under current law,” said Emily Peterson-Cassin, Bright Lines Project coordinator at Public Citizen. “Politicizing the charitable sector would harm the community trust that those organizations have worked over decades to build.”
Congressional leadership has indicated that the Johnson Amendment might be part of the tax reform debate set to begin soon in Washington, D.C. Independent Sector, the Bright Lines project and other partner organizations will be advocating to protect the Johnson Amendment and the nonprofit community’s nonpartisanship.
About Independent Sector: Independent Sector is the only national membership organization that brings together a diverse set of nonprofits, foundations, and corporations to advance the common good.
About Bright Lines Project: The Bright Lines Project, housed at Public Citizen, is pushing to change the tax code to include clear definitions and safe harbors for nonprofit political activity. Our expert drafting team is working to create clear, fair rules that would apply to all nonprofits and would encourage nonpartisan civic engagement while removing opportunities for abuse.