Johnson Amendment

Lobbying & Political Activity

The Issue

The Johnson Amendment, passed in 1954, has prohibited all 501(c)(3) organizations, including houses of worship, from endorsing political candidates. It has been instrumental in establishing the nonprofit charitable sector as one of the only platforms of nonpartisan civic engagement in the United States.

Eliminating this important firewall between nonprofits and partisan political activity would endanger our ability to achieve our missions without partisan political pressure from donors, board members, volunteers, or politicians.

While the charitable community’s advocacy efforts prevented repeal of the Johnson Amendment during the 2017 tax reform debate, we expect Republican lawmakers to reintroduce this issue in 2018. We are committed to educating lawmakers and the sector to ensure that the Johnson Amendment remains in place and that nonprofit organizations are protected from partisan politics.

STATUS

Current
Urgent Issue
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Background

For several years, Independent Sector worked as a part of a coalition to lobby lawmakers for clearer definitions of political activity for all 501(c) organizations. The goal is to create bright lines defining what is and is not political activity, which would help more nonprofits feel comfortable engaging in advocacy and nonpartisan civic engagement. Learn more about the Bright Lines Project.

More recently, Independent Sector has joined a collaborative effort led by National Council of Nonprofits, Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, BoardSource, Council on Foundations, Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, Habitat for Humanity International, Independent Sector, Jewish Federations of North America, National Human Services Assembly , and Volunteers of America. Learn more and read a sign-on letter calling on policymakers to protect the Johnson Amendment at GiveVoice.org.

Republican lawmakers continue to support repealing or weakening the Johnson Amendment. While these efforts are couched as protecting freedom of expression for both charitable organizations and churches, they ignore basic principles in law that already allow nonprofits to advocate on issues and causes most important to them and those they serve.

Timeline

  • February 2, 2017: President Trump said he wanted to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment at the National Prayer Breakfast.
  • March 30, 2017: Independent Sector releases public polling showing 72 percent of voters want to keep the Johnson Amendment in place. 
  • May 4, 2017: President Trump signed an executive order titled, Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty, to ease restrictions on the Johnson Amendment. Read the IS statement.
  • July 13, 2017: The House Appropriations Committee approved a FY 2018 Financial Services appropriations bill that prohibits the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from enforcing the Johnson Amendment for all charitable organizations.
  • November 2, 2017: The House of Representatives passed tax reform legislation that would effectively eliminate the Johnson Amendment. Read the IS statement
  • December 22, 2017: President Donald Trump signed tax reform legislation, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, into law, which did not include language to eliminate the Johnson Amendment.