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 WydenOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

"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 LankfordHow Republicans are battling judicial obstructionism today GOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump GOP to go 'nuclear' with rules change for Trump nominations 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 TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference 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.