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Community Foundation issues statement regarding White House executive order on Johnson Amendment

May 04, 2017 • by Berks County Community Foundation
Berks County Community Foundation

READING, PA – Joining a chorus of voices in the nonprofit sector objecting to President Trump’s executive order today on the Johnson Amendment, Berks County Community Foundation President Kevin K. Murphy said he was troubled by the development at the White House.

Enacted in 1954, the Johnson Amendment prohibits charities from intervening in political campaigns. Only Congress can repeal the law, but Trump’s order discourages the Internal Revenue Service from enforcing the law for tax-exempt churches and groups with religious beliefs.

“Without enforcement, charitable organizations can jump into, or be dragged into political campaigns”, Murphy said. “Moreover, the order is so broad that all charitable organizations would be free to support candidates for election at all levels of government. The amendment may still be on the books as law, but an order effectively disabling it sets up a political free-for-all in the nonprofit sector.

“Regardless of the order, Berks County Community Foundation remains committed to working in a nonpartisan way, independent of electoral politics.”

Murphy said he also remains concerned that members of the U.S. House and Senate are actively discussing bills introduced earlier this year that would repeal the amendment.

Also today, the Council on Foundations released a statement from Vikki Spruill, President and CEO. The Council, founded in 1949, is a nonprofit leadership association of grant-making foundations and corporations. Berks County Community Foundation is a member.

“Today’s White House executive order is an unfortunate and misguided step towards unraveling our nation’s critical decades-long history of separating the good work of the charitable sector from electoral politics,” Spruill said. “By weakening enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, the President’s order blurs an important distinction that has existed for 60 years between tax-exempt institutions and political organizations. It also swings the door wide open for unchecked ‘dark money’ to flow through nonprofit organizations, allowing for unlimited, anonymous, tax-deductible political donations.

“Since our nation’s earliest days, citizens have engaged in charity and public good. Today, charitable giving from individuals and foundations helps countless individuals in the communities in which they live. Their good works should not become entangled in electoral politics. The nonprofit sector, including our churches, foundations, charities and others, needs to maintain its independence as it provides the social capital to lift up the disadvantaged and strengthen communities.

“If elected leaders in Washington want to change the limits on political donations, there are legislative vehicles with which to do that—without compromising the good work of the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. The Council on Foundations opposes the repeal or weakening of the Johnson Amendment.”

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