Friday, February 3, 2017

That's me in the corner/ that's me in the spotlight/ losing my religion*

...but gaining a tax deduction!

At the recent National Prayer Breakfast, President Trump stated:

It was the great Thomas Jefferson** who said, the God who gave us life, gave us liberty. Jefferson asked, can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God. Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that, remember.

Some may not know the term “the Johnson Amendment,” but I am guessing that most of the readers of this blog would be familiar with Code Section 501(c)(3)’s prohibition on election intervention (“and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”)   Famously, Lyndon Johnson was somewhat irritated by negative comments made by a tax-exempt organization (note: not a church… ) during his campaign for re-election to the Senate; thus the Johnson Amendment adding the prohibition on electioneering was born in 1954

Of course, “totally destroying” statutory provisions is traditionally the prerogative of Congress, so it remains to be seen whether this change will come to pass.   A bill repealing the Johnson Amendment is introduced regularly each legislative session and rarely makes any progress; query if the current political climate would give it more traction.   One wonders if the change takes the form of a repeal of the Section 501(c)(3) language (which would open electioneering to all c3s) or a special exception just for churches or religious organizations.   Finally, would such repeal include rules that mirror the income tax provisions that disallow deductions for membership dues allocable to lobbying?   If not, I suspect that a large number of political donors of all stripes will suddenly find religion right quick.

For further discussion of these issues, please see this piece by the most awesome Ellen Aprill in the Washington Post, who has probably forgotten more about the political and lobbying rules for nonprofits than I ever hope to know.

EWW

*With apologies to R.E.M.

**cough** This is me not commenting on the fact that Trump is quoting Thomas Jefferson, author of the First Amendment.  Of course, all political commentary (or non-commentary, as the case may be) is my own individually and should not be attributed to anyone else.  EWW

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/nonprofit/2017/02/thats-me-in-the-corner-thats-me-in-the-spotlight-losing-my-religion.html

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Comments

I've got so much to say about the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, but I'll put all of it aside to note that James Madison drafted the First Amendment (drawing from George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights). No disrespect to Thomas Jefferson intended.

Posted by: John Pomeranz | Feb 6, 2017 8:59:09 AM

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