Partisan Politics and the Undermining of Philanthropy

President Trump has vowed to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, the part of the nonprofit code that prevents 501(c)(3)s from engaging in electoral politics. Basically, the amendment maintains that, in order to retain 501(c)(3) classification, the charity in question cannot use its money to endorse or oppose a political candidate. It’s been around since the Eisenhower administration.

The problem with getting rid of it is two-fold. On the one hand, it allows politicians to start pressuring nonprofits to donate to their campaign or specifically come out in favor of them. The nonprofit field is supposed to be nonpartisan, dealing with issues in communities without the toxic nonsense of politics.

Without the Johnson Amendment, nonprofits are going to become Democratic or Republican, whether they like it or not. And while many are already seen through this partisan lens, they aren’t actively involved in politics, which is crucially important.

The other problem is that charitable nonprofits will be able to take the tax-free donations of their supporters and throw that money to candidates, whether the donors support them or not. Money intended for missions will go towards consultants or getting somebody elected.

The whole issue has been framed as a religious right, as if the Johnson Amendment is preventing pastors from talking about politics. As if anything in history has ever prevented a church from having a political stance.

But without the Johnson Amendment, churches and other nonprofit organizations will be able to make tax-free donations to whichever candidate they choose. This is definitely not a good use of resources considering that most people want their money to go towards a humanitarian cause, not into a politician’s pocket.

Experts worry that if the Johnson Amendment is repealed, it will result in less donations made overall. That’s why some things are best kept separated, such as church and state and politics and nonprofits.