It keeps getting worse: Lawmakers approve legislation that will effectively repeal the Johnson Amendment, opening the door to corruption, and making every church a potential political weapon.
The House voted Thursday to make it harder for the government to punish churches that get involved in politics.
In a 217-199 vote, lawmakers approved legislation barring the IRS from revoking the tax-exempt status of churches that back political candidates, unless it is specifically approved by the commissioner of the agency.
Politico notes the new legislation “amounts to a backdoor way around the so-called Johnson amendment, a half-century-old prohibition on nonprofits getting involved in political campaign activities.”
Writing for The Humanist, Matthew Bulger explains two significant consequences of repealing the Johnson Amendment for our democratic system:
- Political donations to churches, which would eventually be given to candidates or causes, would be tax-deductible, unlike other forms of political giving. Contributions to super PACs and to candidates are not tax-deductible.
- Donations to churches for political ends would be anonymous, unlike most other forms of political giving. This is especially concerning because while most 501(c)(3) groups must file a Form 990 with their tax return, which provides some information about the group and its activities, churches are exempt from that reporting requirement. As a result, their political spending would be nearly impossible to track.
In other words, repeal of the Johnson Amendment allows big money donors to make anonymous, tax deductible political contributions through churches, subverting any remaining campaign finance checks and balances, and corrupting at once both the political process and houses of worship that will be turned into little more than money laundering fronts for big money donors.Responding to the new legislation, National Council of Nonprofits President and CEO Tim Delaney released the following statement:
It’s now impossible for Congress and the White House to deny their objective: to politicize the trusted charitable nonprofit community by authorizing unlimited, unfettered, and untraceable political money to flow through the nonprofit sector to benefit partisan special interests. Through their regulatory action removing the paper trail for 501(c)(4) organizations and their legislative action via a must-pass appropriations bill to weaken the longstanding Johnson Amendment and open the floodgates for getting a tax deduction for their political campaigning, they can no longer hide their agenda to impose partisan politics over public interest.
Charitable nonprofits are not in the business of partisan politics and are not here to be used to hide or launder political money; rather, we exist to solve problems in our communities for the common good. The collateral damage to the reputation of charitable nonprofits, even those that steer far clear of the secret money and pressure to endorse candidates, will be devastating. Is it too much to ask that politicians put this country’s interests above their own? Based on these two actions in Washington this week, it seems the answer is, sadly, yes.
Bottom line: This new legislation passed by the GOP controlled House effectively repeals the Johnson Amendment and will potentially convert every church in America into a dark money super PAC, corrupting an already deeply corrupt campaign finance policy, and moving the country ever closer to a Christian theocracy.