Written by Don Byrd
The Washington Post has announced its opposition to provisions in the U.S. House tax bill undermining a key protection in the law for houses of worship. The Editorial Board warned against rolling back the so-called Johnson Amendment, which bars tax-exempt organizations like houses of worship from engaging in electoral politics. Religious organizations including the BJC have urged Congress to leave the law intact because of the harm to congregations that is likely to follow from introducing politics into our sanctuaries. The Post column, published over the weekend, focuses on a separate but related danger to the proposed change: the harm that will be done to the integrity of our campaign finance system through the exploitation of houses of worship.
Here is an excerpt:
What the House bill really amounts to is throwing open an entirely new channel for campaign money to politicize churches, charities and foundations. Today, so-called super PACs are a massive force in politics, spending more than $1 billion in the 2016 election cycle. Such super PAC donations must be disclosed to the Federal Election Commission and are not tax-deductible. What if these donors are tempted to give their money to a 501(c)3 organization that beckons with a tax deduction and no disclosure? The givers won’t hold back. Churches and church-affiliated groups generally don’t even have to file IRS returns, so there will be no information about who these contributors are. Other 501(c)3 groups do file, but the donors are not disclosed to the public. The politicized churches, charities and foundations could become the latest vessels for dark-money politics. The House language is not in the Senate legislation, but it could survive to a conference.
Read the whole thing.
So far, the Senate tax bill leaves the Johnson Amendment untouched, but a final bill has yet to come to the floor for a vote. Any differences between the House and Senate versions will have to be worked out in a conference committee.
For more on why the Johnson Amendment is good for religious liberty, see the BJC’s Community Not Candidates resource page.