House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) introduced legislation (H.R. 6195) just prior to the Congressional recess that would permit an organization exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code to make statements relating to political campaigns as long as the statements “are made in the ordinary course of carrying out its tax-exempt purpose.” Such activity has been prohibited since 1954 due to amendment proposed by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) which barred churches and other 501(c)(3) nonprofits from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
Hice and the bill’s other proponents argue that such a change is necessary to allow organizations, especially churches, to legally “make comments about a political candidate or political issues within the scope of their normal activities without the threat of the IRS potentially taking away their tax-exempt status.” A complete repeal of the Johnson Amendment was included in the Republican party platform this summer at the behest of Presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Opponents of the measure argue that while a better, clearer definition of what constitutes participation or intervention in political campaigns is needed, the new bill is vaguely worded, and could lead to much broader political involvement by and with 501(c)(3)s than its authors intend.
Source: BNA Daily Tax Report (subscription required)