Senate parliamentarian strikes language allowing churches to endorse candidates from tax bill

Senate parliamentarian strikes language allowing churches to endorse candidates from tax bill
© Greg Nash

The Senate parliamentarian has blocked language repealing the Johnson Amendment and allowing churches and 501(c)3 nonprofits to endorse candidates and engage in partisan politics from inclusion in the tax bill.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Trump issues order to bring transparency to health care prices | Fight over billions in ObamaCare payments heads to Supreme Court Senate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record MORE's (D-Ore.) office confirmed to The Hill on Thursday night that the Senate parliamentarian had determined the inclusion of the Johnson Amendment repeal did not meet Senate rules that require elements of the tax bill to have something to do with the budget.

The Senate is seeking to move a House-Senate conference report under special budgetary rules that prevent Democrats from using a filibuster. To use those rules, all parts of the bill must have a budgetary effect, and the parliamentarian ruled the Johnson language did not meet that standard.

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"I will continue to fight all attempts to eliminate this critical provision that keeps the sanctity of our religious institutions intact, prevents the flow of dark money in politics, and keeps taxpayer dollars from advancing special interest biddings," Wyden said in a statement first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordGOP senators divided over approach to election security Hillicon Valley: Facebook unveils new cryptocurrency | Waters wants company to halt plans | Democrats look to force votes on election security | Advertisers partner with tech giants on 'digital safety' | House GOP unveils cyber agenda Democrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills MORE (R-Okla.) said he was "disappointed" that the measure was not allowed into the tax bill.

"The federal government and the IRS should never have the ability, through our tax code, to limit free speech; this tax reform bill was an appropriate place to address this historic tax problem," he said in a statement shared with The Hill.

"Nonprofits are allowed to lobby Congress or their local elected officials, but the ambiguity of the current tax code keeps non-profits in constant fear that they might have crossed a line that no other organization has to consider," he added.

The repeal of the Johnson Amendment was originally added to the House-passed bill last month, though it was not in the Senate bill.

The proposal was a major priority for President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE, who vowed to repeal the amendment during his 2016 presidential campaign, saying it would "give our churches their voice back."

Specifically, the House bill would have temporarily allowed nonprofits to engage in political speech in the ordinary course of its activities, so long as the organization didn't incur significant expenses while doing so.

The Johnson Amendment, named for then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson (D-Texas), has been part of the tax code since 1954. It prohibits churches and other tax-exempt organizations from participating in some political activity.

The provision is narrow in scope and does not prevent churches from engaging in voter registration drives or pastors from speaking about political issues.

John Bowden contributed

Updated: 9:19 a.m.