Forum Tells Congress to Keep Johnson Amendment, Quotes PNY Official Statement

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Foruum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers Delivered the Following Statement Today to Congress:

Keep Partisan Politics Out of the Charitable Sector; More than 4500 organizations call on Congress to protect Johnson Amendment

Washington, DC – A broad, nationwide coalition of 501(c)(3) organizations, made up of charitable nonprofits, including religious institutions, philanthropy serving organizations and foundations, delivered a clear message to Congress today: maintain the current law that protects nonprofit organizations from being hounded for partisan political contributions and endorsements.

The Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship, signed by 4500+ organizations from every state and every segment of the charitable and foundation communities, makes a strong statement in support of nonpartisanship and urges those who have vowed to repeal or weaken this vital protection to leave existing law in place for nonprofit organizations and the people they serve. 

At issue is a provision in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code that conditions tax-exempt status and the ability to receive tax-deductible contributions on the agreement of charitable organizations and foundations to refrain from engaging in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” The provision is often referred to as the “Johnson Amendment” because it was proposed by then-Senate Minority Leader Johnson to legislation passed by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed by President Eisenhower in 1954.

The Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers supports the continued full enforcement of the “Johnson Amendment.” We are troubled by recent proposals in Washington to weaken or repeal this longstanding protection in the federal tax code.

The Forum represents more than 50 regional and national philanthropy-serving organizations that collectively comprise more than 7,000 charitable foundations and other grantmaking organizations across the country. These philanthropic institutions, along with all other 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, have operated as nonpartisan organizations for more than 60 years. This has enabled them to occupy a trusted and essential space in our civil society.

Private foundations, while barred from most lobbying activities, are free to engage in public debates, promote public education efforts, and fund a wide range of issue-focused activities. Charitable nonprofits, including religious congregations, are free to speak on important matters of the day and advocate on public policy issues and legislation relevant to their mission and important to their clients, members or communities.

But speaking out and engaging in advocacy on issues are an entirely different matter than endorsing political candidates or funding political campaigns. 501(c)(3) organizations should remain above the political fray, advocating and informing leaders but not engaging in political activity. Allowing charities to endorse and support political candidates is tantamount to allowing politicians to use the public’s goodwill towards the charitable sector as a vehicle to advance their own partisan political agendas. This would have the effect of politicizing and thereby erasing the public’s high trust in charities, painting them as partisan organizations rather than the nonpartisan community problem solvers that they are.

“We urge all policymakers to reject any proposal to insert partisan politics into our sector, which will ultimately undermine the public trust in charities and will make it much more difficult for them to do their important charitable work in our communities.              
David Biemesderfer, President & CEO, Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers

“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. Philanthropy New York opposes the repeal of the Johnson Amendment”                                                       
Board of Directors,
Philanthropy New York March 15, 2017

“Without this “firewall,” there is great concern that the charitable sector will become politicized and that many charitable contributions will be directed toward political campaigns rather than community issues.”                                                                    
Gretchen Greiner-Lott, Vice President
, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

The Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship is the second major communication delivered to Congress this week. On April 4, more than 99 religious and denominational organizations from across faiths delivered a letter declaring that they “strongly oppose any effort to weaken or eliminate protections” in Section 501(c)(3). These messages from broad-based organizations that depend on the public trust are reinforced by recent polling data showing that Americans do not want the rancor of partisan politics to be invading their cherished nonprofits or church sanctuaries. Research published March 30 by Independent Sector and the Bright Lines Project reveals that 72 percent of American voters polled want to keep current rules prohibiting 501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in partisan political activity. A February 2017 Evangelical Leaders Survey documented that “nearly 90 percent of evangelical leaders do not think pastors should endorse politicians from the pulpit.”

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About the Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship

The Community Letter is part of a collaborative initiative led by National Council of NonprofitsAlliance for Strong Families and CommunitiesBoardSourceCouncil on FoundationsForum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers( Habitat for Humanity InternationalIndependent SectorJewish Federations of North AmericaNational Human Services Assembly, and Volunteers of America. This broad-based coalition has formed to protect a cornerstone of the 501(c)(3) community, its ability to solve problems in localities across the country by bringing people together without the rancor of partisan politics getting in the way. The initiative seeks to protect the current law (known as the Johnson Amendment) that ensures 501(c)(3) organizations remain nonpartisan and focused on mission instead of politics. Learn more at

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