The House Tax Bill Could Be the End of Charities as We Know Them
|The U.S. House Tax Bill would Essentially Unite Church and State
By Pastor Hal Mayer on Dec 04, 2017 12:30 am
If the U.S. House of Representatives’ tax bill becomes law, partisan politics would overtake the nonprofit world, casting institutions designed to promote the public good into the depraved den of identity politics and selfish motives. This would become a seismic moment because charities would use tax-deductible contributions to favor or oppose political candidates at the behest of wealthy donors with devastating results for charities and the nation.
Since 1954, charities have been barred from getting involved in political campaigns by a rule known as the “Johnson Amendment.” Donald Trump vowed to destroy this rule at the behest of some evangelical churches that want to endorse candidates from the pulpit. But cogent opposition from nonprofit advocacy groups had a powerful effect. House Republicans now propose to relax, not repeal, the Johnson Amendment. The bill passed by the House of Representatives would let charities make political-campaign statements, but only in the “ordinary course” of their regular activities and only if the cost of the speech is not more than a small, incremental expense.”
According to the sponsors of this compromise, these limits ensure that “the organization’s primary function remains charitable or religious in nature,” and that there would be no risk that charities would become political action committees (PACs) or that taxpayers would subsidize political campaigns through charitable contributions.
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The Johnson Amendment protects charities from political pressure applied by donors and from partisan capture. Without it, charities (and churches), which are always in the fundraising business, could be bought for political purposes. The result would be tax deductions of phony charitable contributions made for political reasons, something the sponsors of this measure say they want to avoid.
Further, it is common to assume that charities have a noble intent. But charities in the U.S. are easy to create and can serve a particular (and ugly) agenda under the guise of being educational. For instance, a charity that promotes white supremacy could “educate” and make political statements as part of its normal course of business. The same is true for less fringy groups, such as “social welfare” charities, or megachurches who could then make political statements at no extra incremental cost. In short, once nonprofits are permitted to take partisan stances, there is no realistic limit. And an underfunded IRS would not seriously attempt to enforce the bills weak limits on political speech.
Another curious provision in the House bill limits the charitable deduction to the wealthiest 5 percent of taxpayers. If this provision were combined with relaxing the Johnson Amendment, only the very richest would benefit by the tax deduction. It would further skew political discourse to those at the top of the income spectrum and drown out the voices of everyone else.
The Johnson Amendment has served the nonprofit world and American society well. It should be left in place. Relaxing it would be prophetically dangerous because it would openly assist in uniting church and state.
“The dignitaries of church and state will unite to bribe, persuade, or compel all classes to honor the Sunday. The lack of divine authority will be supplied by oppressive enactments. Political corruption is destroying love of justice and regard for truth; and even in free America, rulers and legislators, in order to secure public favor, will yield to the popular demand for a law enforcing Sunday observance. Liberty of conscience, which has cost so great a sacrifice, will no longer be respected.” The Great Controversy, page 592.