The Alliance for Nevada Nonprofits would like to add its voice to the growing opposition to the repeal of the Johnson Amendment. Repeal of the Johnson Amendment would change the character and nature of the nonprofit sector and limit the ability of nonprofit organizations to play a vital role in their communities by politicizing charities and foundations. Much of the discussion of the Johnson amendment has focused on allowing religious communities to participate more directly in the political process. However, the proposed changes to federal law, including H.R. 172, H.R. 781, and S.264, would apply to not only churches and religious organizations but to all charitable foundations and nonprofits.
Current federal law does not permit 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations to endorse or oppose candidates for office or engage in substantial lobbying efforts. Removal of this restriction would lead to politicizing charitable organizations. The politicizing of charities would erode civil society and further deepen the divide between left and right. In place of charities that serve whole communities regardless of political affiliations, we might see highly a highly political charitable sector, reduction in support for charitable activities, and significant duplication of effort.
In the past, organizations that have taken overtly political stances have lost significant support and trust when their political actions interfered with their missions. These types of activities have led to a huge loss of support for these organizations and diminished their ability to serve their communities. Keeping overtly political views out of nonprofit organizations allows them to gain the trust and support of the broader public. Removal of the Johnson Amendment risks the trust nonprofits currently enjoy.
Not only does the Johnson Amendment protect charities and the communities they support from politics, but it also prevents large foundations and their wealthy donors from having too much influence in government. Repeal of the Johnson Amendment would allow tax deductible donations to be used for political purposes – effectively a taxpayer subsidy for the wealthy to engage in politics. If the law changes, the wealthy could set up foundations, gain tax benefits and then spend those assets on behalf of candidates and lobbying with little to no restrictions. The change would also allow existing foundations such as the Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Ford Foundation to use their considerable wealth to engage in overtly political activities.
Ultimately, donors would have no way of determining whether their gifts were being used for charitable purposes, or if they were just benefiting those running for office. Simply stated, these proposals would benefit politicians and political operatives and damage the ability for foundations and charitable organizations to serve their communities.