The House Republicans’ Assault On The Johnson Amendment Just Got A Lot Worse

Republicans in the House of Representatives yesterday doubled-down on their efforts to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which is the provision in current law that prohibits tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates.

Thanks to a vote taken by members of the House Ways and Means Committee, now all tax-exempt organizations – including houses of worship, charitable nonprofits and foundations – could endorse or oppose candidates in all of their activities.

Endorsement activity could now permeate throughout all tax-exempt organizations, transforming them from charitable organizations to tax-exempt partisan campaign entities.

House Republicans want to allow houses of worship -- and other tax-exempt nonprofits -- to endorse or oppose candidates for public office. 

This is a terrible idea. No one wants our houses of worships and charities to be torn apart by partisan campaign politics, including houses of worship and charities themselves. In fact, 4,200 faith leaders, 5,500 nonprofit organizations, and 103 religious and denominational organizations have urged Congress keep the current law in place.

When Republican leadership introduced a tax package last week, the bill contained a provision that would exempt houses of worship from the Johnson Amendment. In the committee markup of the bill, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) introduced an amendment to strip that language; several members of delivered powerful defenses of the Johnson Amendment. Weakening the law seemed indefensible. Nonetheless, the amendment failed on a party line vote.

Then, just before the committee was set to vote on the bill as a whole, its chairman, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) offered a new 30-page amendment, which was adopted by the committee. The amendment contained language that would expand the exemption for houses of worship to all tax-exempt organizations.

That’s right. Instead of cutting the troubling provision in the tax bill, the Republican majority vastly expanded it!

Under the new provision, a pastor could endorse one or more candidates. The church could then post videos of each sermon on its website, email it to parishioners and distribute it publicly on social media. The church could also endorse a candidate in the adult Bible study that takes place each week, and in every bulletin, email or newsletter issued by the church. In addition, the president of major university could insert an endorsement into its weekly newsletter that is emailed to current students and its massive alumni network.

Even just one endorsement or statement of opposition from a large house of worship or nonprofit could have an effect on an election. Imagine how this vast provision will change our nonprofits and our elections in the future.

This bill goes to the House floor next, and AU will continue to fight to get the language removed. You can help by contacting your member of Congress here.