Tax Bill Invites New Onslaught of Secret Money In Politics

Written by Alex Brown, Common Cause intern on November 10, 2017


There’s a bombshell buried in the second-to-last page of the House tax “reform” bill.

Rep. Kevin Brady’s, R-TX, amendment threatens to undo more than a half century of distinction between charitable and partisan activity and invite a new onslaught of anonymous political contributions.  If enacted, Brady’s proposal would overturn the Johnson Amendment, which since the 1950s has limited the political activity of charities ranging from the Red Cross to the Catholic Church.

Americans deserve protection against the diversion of their donations to 501(c)3 charities like the American Heart Association to partisan political efforts.  Overturning the Johnson Amendment would blur the line between charities and political organizations, and allow tax-exempt groups to make political contributions while continuing to withhold the names of their donors.

Most charities, including the Common Cause Education Fund, understand that in return for tax-exempt status and the right to keep their donors confidential, they must stay out of partisan politics.

Five thousand organizations and over 4,200 faith leaders have written Congress expressing support for the Johnson Amendment.  This change isn’t something that nonprofit and religious communities are demanding; it represents what partisan interests want: a new loophole in political disclosure rules.  

Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn argues that “this takes the bill beyond just a massive giveaway to the nation’s billionaire class to now allow wealthy special interests to manipulate the charitable sector for partisan political ends.”  She’s right; removing the clear line between charitable and political giving politicizes the treasuries of large organizations ranging from religious groups to corporate fronts like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Charities and houses of worship shouldn’t  become tools of partisan politics. Americans who want to make campaign contributions have plenty of ways to do so; their support for legitimate charities shouldn’t be funneled into political campaigns.  

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Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Money in Politics

Tags: Disclosure

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