Special Interest Tax Giveaway Also Thrusts the Pulpit into Politics

    Media Contact
  • David Vance
Statement of Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn

Buried in the final pages of the tax bill’s handouts to deep-pocketed special interests is a troubling provision that would allow houses of worship to actively engage in partisan politicking. For more than a half century the Johnson Amendment has prohibited 501(c)(3)s, including religious organizations, from participating in political campaigns. If this bright line is removed the abuses will inevitably follow and the loopholes will be expanded. Overwhelmingly members of the clergy support the Johnson Amendment prohibition on political activity but there will inevitably be bad actors and money will change hands for endorsements and more. The mixing of partisan politics, religion and money would not end well and has no business in this legislation.

Removing the bright line prohibition will also lead to confusion and controversy. The legislative language would thrust the IRS into the sure-to-be-controversial task of determining whether the context and amount of expense qualifies for the new exemption. Given the scrutiny and criticism the IRS has been subjected to in recent years for its efforts to enforce limits on 501(c)(4) organization political activity, this new legislation seems like a recipe for disaster.