Donald Trump Says He’ll “Destroy” the Johnson Amendment: What Would That Mean?
President Trump’s recent statement that he would “destroy” the Johnson Amendment is raising questions about political activity by houses of worship and other 501(c)(3) nonprofits, as well as the history and content of the amendment itself. Alliance for Justice’s Bolder Advocacy project specializes in clarifying the political and lobbying activities that are permissible for all types of nonprofits, including religious organizations, and offers numerous online resources to help organizations, media and the public understand the issues in play.
“The statement by President Trump has raised lots of questions about permissible political activity by houses of worship and other nonprofits, and we’re hearing from people who want to know what the issues are,” said Abby Levine, Director of Bolder Advocacy. “We have lots of resources to help people do just that.”
Included on the organization’s website is a toll-free hotline number, 1-866-NP-LOBBY, staffed by attorneys who can offer technical assistance regarding questions about permissible. Bolder Advocacy’s comprehensive guidebook for 501(c)(3)s, The Rules of the Game, is available online here.
The Johnson Amendment, named after Lyndon B. Johnson, was a 1954 amendment to the tax code. It prohibits 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations, to whom contributions are tax deductible, from participating in political campaigns (specifically, supporting or opposing a candidate). The purpose of the rule was to prevent tax-deductible money from being used to support or oppose candidates for public office. The Johnson Amendment does not prohibit all electoral activity, and 501(c)(3) organizations may still actively participate in the election process.
As background, then-Senator Lyndon Johnson introduced the amendment, purportedly motivated by activities of charities allied to one of his opponents during his 1954 primary election. A charitable organization formed in opposition to the New Deal, the Committee for Constitutional Government, launched a campaign that suggested that a vote for the incumbent (Johnson) was a vote for socialism in Washington. The campaign, which was both unusual and initially a threat to Johnson, resulted in Johnson questioning the legality of the committee’s actions. Upon learning that the Committee’s actions were legal, Johnson introduced the amendment on July 2, 1954. The amendment was enacted without any committee hearings or floor discussion.