Imagine the pressure placed on your organization if a board member and major donor pushed you to endorse different candidates in a local election. When trying to schedule an important discussion with your senator, imagine their staff person says, “It doesn’t look like your organization endorsed the Senator in the last election, so I’m not sure she will have time to meet with you this month.” Imagine carefully policing your finances, emails, social media, website, events, and programs to ensure your organization does not cross a new, undefined line related to partisan political activity. Imagine being forced to choose between the Republican and Democratic summer camp for your kids. Imagine, despite our best efforts, that partisan politics seeps into the fabric of the charitable sector. These scenarios are at risk of becoming reality in 2018.
We Won a Battle
Last year, more than 10,000 leaders from charitable and religious organizations urged federal policymakers to preserve the current law known as the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment protects charities from partisan political pressure, because it prohibits them from endorsing or opposing a candidate for office. A small group of Republican policymakers worked to weaken the law through tax reform. Thanks to the action of thousands of organizations, board members, and individual staff from across the country, the sector succeeded in stopping these efforts to weaken the Johnson Amendment in tax reform.
But the Fight Continues
Although proponents to weaken or repeal the Johnson Amendment were unsuccessful in tax reform, their success in getting into early versions of the tax reform bill strengthened their resolve to try again this year. This means the sector must dial up its own advocacy. Although we beat back this proposal in tax reform last year, a large proportion of federal policymakers still do not understand the Johnson Amendment or its crucial role in preserving the charitable deduction, donor privacy, and the public’s trust in charities. The odds are high that your member of Congress and his/her staff still need basic education about this issue.
Even those on the Hill who are familiar with the Johnson Amendment may not think this is an issue important to nonprofits in their districts, because they have not heard from their constituents. They still need help understanding how efforts to weaken the enforcement or basic structure of the law will fundamentally damage the ability for charities and religious organizations in their communities from pursuing their missions. National organizations cannot tell those stories. Only you can help policymakers imagine what will happen if partisan politics pervades after-school programs, soup kitchens, and even houses of worship in your community.
Let’s protect charities as one of the last spaces where we are not Republican or Democrat, but rather all members of the same national community. As we learn more, we’ll provide opportunities for you to engage with your Members of Congress on this key issue. We hope you will join over 10,000 of us, because this close fight may come down to a voice of one – yours!