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Philanthropy CA Statement on the Johnson Amendment

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Philanthropy California voices our unequivocal support for the “Johnson Amendment” – the long-standing federal law that prohibits 501(c)(3) charitable organizations from endorsing, opposing or contributing to political candidates and engaging in partisan campaign activities.  We are proud to join the diverse coalition of organizations – including the United Philanthropy Forum, 106 religious and denominational organizations, more than 5,600 charitable nonprofit organizations, more than 4,300 faith leaders, and state charities officials – who support the protections now afforded by the Johnson Amendment.

Now more than ever, 501(c)(3) organizations play a critical role in informing leaders and advocating on our state’s most pressing issues such as housing, healthcare, education, and the environment. In order to best serve the public’s interest, charitable organizations must remain above the fray of partisan politics. As trusted messengers in their communities, nonprofit organizations wield unique influence and must be protected from efforts to use that influence in partisan ways.   

Enacted in 1954, the Johnson Amendment is a provision of the U.S. tax code that prohibits all 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations – including charitable foundations, universities, hospitals, churches, food pantries, think tanks and countless other types of social purpose organizations that receive tax-deductible contributions – from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The Johnson Amendment prevents such organizations from engaging in electoral politics; it does not prevent them from engaging in issue advocacy or in lobbying on specific legislation. 

The nonpartisan space preserved by the Johnson Amendment allows foundations to have a tremendous, positive impact on communities across California. Between 2015 and 2016, philanthropy invested over $4.7 billion in California, supporting areas such as health, education, human services, and economic development.

If the Johnson Amendment is repealed, nonprofit organizations could find themselves pressured to endorse political candidates as a condition of support or funding, or conversely forced to make campaign contributions in order to advance their causes.  Foundations could be compelled to not only endorse but also financially support political candidates, siphoning away resources that would otherwise go to charitable purposes.  A repeal of the Johnson Amendment would threaten not only philanthropy’s ability to remain nonpartisan but also its ability to devote valuable grantmaking dollars to advance the social good. 

In spite of the deep divisions that exist within our country, charitable organizations continue play the critical roles that they have always played – serving as places of stability, comfort, and refuge for their communities. The Johnson Amendment protects the integrity and public trust of 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, including foundations, by prohibiting them from engaging in partisan politics. We urge lawmakers to keep this valuable safeguard that allows charitable organizations to serve those at the core of their mission – the public. 

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