President and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits
As you browse Grantstation’s extensive database of funding opportunities, do you want to have to filter potential support for your nonprofit’s mission by political party? Or worse, do you want donors to fund only nonprofits that agree with their preferences in political candidates? That could happen if efforts in Congress are successful in weakening or repealing the law that has protected nonprofits and foundations from engaging in partisan electioneering for more than 60 years.
Referred to as the Johnson Amendment (after then-Senate Minority Leader Johnson), this law has shielded nonprofits from being hounded for endorsements or contributions to partisan political campaigns. While charitable nonprofits can, should, and do advocate on the issues of the day, the prohibition from supporting or opposing specific candidates for public office protects the independence of 501(c)(3) organizations.
Right now there are multiple bills in Congress to weaken or repeal the Johnson Amendment. President Trump vowed to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment. Most recently, a rider was attached to a must-pass appropriations bill that would make it nearly impossible for the IRS to enforce this long-standing protection when violated by churches. If enacted, it could open the floodgates to partisan divisiveness that would harm the ability of nonprofits to bring in contributions, grants, and contracts.
Rather than being able to bridge the partisan divide to solve community problems, as the current law facilitates, we could have the following scenario:
Donors are scared away from giving to any nonprofits when hearing that some groups diverted donations to support political candidates.
Other donors try to pressure nonprofits to endorse the donors’ preferred candidates for political offices, using their donations as a subtle or not-so-subtle means of persuasion. (Think this through: How can you possibly keep multiple donors happy when they have competing views of who should win the primary and then general elections at local, state, and federal levels?)
Foundations withhold funding from nonprofits that don’t align with their political views.
Political candidates and their operatives hound nonprofits for endorsements and resources, and don’t take “no” for an answer because the law is no longer in place.
Board members are diverted from missions, arguing over which candidates to endorse.
Churches become a means to funnel political funds, because churches — unlike candidates’ campaign committees — don’t have to disclose who their donors are.
The public’s trust in the nonprofit sector vanishes as nonprofits end up as rancorous and partisan as the rest of society.
A loud message must be sent to Congress – right now, today – to protect a fundamental part of our sector’s identity. I urge you to learn more about the importance of nonprofit nonpartisanship and take the action steps listed below.
Tim Delaney is President and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, a trusted resource and proven advocate for America’s charitable nonprofits.
Action steps you can take today
Sign the Letter: Join more than 5,400 organizations – charitable nonprofits, religious institutions, foundations, and for-profits from across the country – that have taken a stand by signing the Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship and showing that our community intends to resist any and all efforts to politicize our sector by weakening or repealing this long-standing protection in federal tax law that keeps 501(c)(3) organizations away from endorsing, opposing, or contributing to political candidates. Not sure if your organization has already signed? Check here.
Spread the Word: Share this article (using the easy share buttons below) with three or more colleagues and encourage them to sign their organizations onto the Community Letter. You can also Tweet your support using the hashtags #CommunityNotCandidates and/or #JohnsonAmendment.
Make the Calls: Call your Representative and two Senators and tell them to preserve current law (the Johnson Amendment) that protects charitable nonprofits, including houses of worship, and foundations, as well as the millions of people we collectively serve every day. Letters are good, personal meetings are great, but a phone call from you now is quick, easy, and effective. You can call the main U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-225-3121 and ask to speak with your elected officials.