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Trump’s Reckless Threat to End Johnson Amendment Will Corrupt the Pulpit, Open Church Groups to Political Manipulation

Feb. 2, 2017

Trump’s Reckless Threat to End Johnson Amendment Will Corrupt the Pulpit, Open Church Groups to Political Manipulation

Remarks at Prayer Breakfast Show Grave Threats to the Integrity of the Charitable and Religious Sectors, Statements of Three Public Citizen Experts

Note: This morning at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Donald Trump promised to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, a decades-old provision ensuring that charities and religious organizations remain politically nonpartisan. Without this rule, nonpartisan charities and churches would be open to manipulation for political ends, further jeopardizing the public’s confidence that charitable contributions would be used only for universally valued purposes rather than self-serviing political gain. Repealing the Johnson Amendment would insert politics into the last bastion of true nonpartisanship in our society.

“This is a way to convert religious organizations, charities and educational groups into dark money organizations. It’s also a backdoor method to have government fund elections— effectively subsidizing dark money.”

–Robert Weissman, president, Public Citizen

“For more than 60 years, the Johnson Amendment has meant that tax-deductible money cannot be used for partisan politics. It has guaranteed that Americans’ charitable giving will not be channeled into political campaigns. It has helped maintain the independent integrity of our charitable and religious sectors.”

–Lisa Gilbert, director, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

“The IRS is the final arbiter of eligibility for federal tax-exempt status. Even if the Johnson Amendment were repealed, the IRS would still be in the business of determining what constitutes political activity and how much 501(c)s – including charities, houses of worship and other nonprofits – can do. Failing to clarify those rules has already led to continued ambiguity, a chilling of permissible activity, abuse and corruption by outside political operatives and continued enforcement problems nationwide. Repealing the Johnson Amendment would only make those problems worse.”

–Emily Peterson-Cassin, project coordinator, Public Citizen’s Bright Lines Project

The Bright Lines Project is pushing to change the tax code to include clear definitions and safe harbors for nonprofit political activity. Our expert drafting team has been working for years to create clear, fair rules that would apply to all nonprofits and would encourage nonpartisan civic engagement while removing opportunities for abuse. Our proposal may be read here.