Dems want to keep limits on churches, nonprofits in politics

Dems want to keep limits on churches, nonprofits in politics
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A group of nearly 100 Democratic lawmakers are calling for tax-reform legislation to preserve limits on political activity by nonprofits.

The lawmakers urged Congress to maintain the “Johnson amendment,” which prohibits churches and other tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates.

“This policy has successfully shielded our nation’s charitable community against the rancor of partisan politics and allowed them to freely address humanitarian, social, and community-specific problems in a nonpartisan manner,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the leaders of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

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The letter comes as Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee are focusing on drafting a bill to overhaul the tax code. Republicans have said they want to pass tax-reform legislation by the end of the year.

Many Republicans have sought to curb the Johnson amendment, arguing that the provision violates religious institutions’ First-Amendment rights. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyOvernight Health Care: Initial Senate tax bill doesn't repeal ObamaCare mandate | 600K sign up for ObamaCare in first four days | Feds crack down on opioid trafficking Overnight Finance: Senate GOP unveils different approach on tax reform | House tax bill heads to floor | House leaders eye vote next week | AT&T denies pressure for CNN sale GOP tax bill clears hurdle, heads to House floor MORE (R-Texas) has said that he wants to include repeal of the Johnson amendment in a tax bill.

President Trump earlier this year vowed to “totally destroy” the Johnson amendment. In May, he signed an executive order designed to ease enforcement of the measure.

“Under my administration, free speech does not end at the steps of a cathedral or synagogue or any other house of worship,” Trump said when he signed the order.

But the Democratic lawmakers said that the Johnson amendment allows nonprofits to discuss political topics while ensuring that they don’t face pressure to take a position in elections.

“Americans do not want our houses of worship, charitable nonprofits, and foundations to become points of leverage for partisan politics,” the letter said. “Nor do they want tax-exempt, charitable contributions to be funneled into political campaigns.”

More than 90 Democratic House members signed the letter, including Reps. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), James Clyburn (S.C.), John Lewis (Ga.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.).

“The Johnson amendment not only ensures a separation of church and state, but it ensures our Democracy can be powered by people not PACs,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

The letter is also backed by more than two dozen outside groups, including Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Independent Sector, and Public Citizen.