The Johnson Amendment, Nonprofit Political Activity

Official Statement of Philanthropy New York on:

The Johnson Amendment, Nonprofit Political Activity

Enacted in 1954, the Johnson Amendment is a provision of the U.S. tax code that prohibits all 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations – including charitable foundations, universities, hospitals, churches, food pantries, think tanks and countless other types of social purpose organizations that receive tax-deductible contributions – from endorsing or opposing political candidates.  The Johnson Amendment only prevents such organizations from engaging in electoral politics, it does not prevent them from engaging in issue advocacy or in lobbying on specific legislation. 

In recent years, a few religious groups have sought to repeal the Johnson Amendment, asserting that it restricts free speech rights. However, the Johnson Amendment does not prevent nonprofits, including churches, from speaking out on social issues, but merely prevents them from endorsing candidates and participating in electoral politics.

Many of the organizations with which Philanthropy New York works closely on policy issues affecting the sector have come out strongly against repealing the Johnson Amendment.  The National Council on Nonprofits said, “For more than 60 years, [the Johnson Amendment] has successfully protected charitable nonprofits, religious congregations, and foundations from being hounded by politicians, political operatives, and paid political consultants seeking financial contributions, endorsements, and more.”

Protecting the trust and high value that the American public places in the nonprofit sector is critically important to Philanthropy New York and our members. 

We join our colleagues in opposing the repeal of the Johnson Amendment.   In addition to the Forum of Regional Associations of GrantmakersNational Council of Nonprofits, Independent Sector, Council on Foundations, Board Source, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the editorial board of Nonprofit Quarterly, the editorial board of BloombergView, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Interfaith Alliance, California Association of Nonprofits, Minnesota Council on Nonprofits, Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits and a fast-growing list of other organizations representing the interests of the nonprofit sector have taken a similar position. 

Philanthropy New York opposes the repeal of the Johnson Amendment.

Date of recommendation by the Public Policy Committee: February 10, 2017

Timeframe of open member commentary period: February 17 - February 28, 2017

Date of official approval by Board of Directors: March 15, 2017