Republicans wanted to repeal a law which stops churches and charities from partaking in partisan politics in their latest tax bill, but Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) blocked it in the interest of preventing “the flow of dark money in politics.”
“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.
Created in the 1950s and named after then-Senator Lyndon Johnson, the Johnson Amendment limits free speech, according to Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who stated he was “disappointed” that its removal was not allowed in 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,” Lankford said in a statement.
“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 said of the rule that forbids churches and other tax-exempt organizations from participating in some political activity.
Wyden’s office confirmed to The Hill on Thursday night that he had stopped the new tax bill from going forward with a repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which was originally added to the House-passed bill last month, though it was not in the Senate bill.
President Donald Trump promised to repeal the amendment during the 2016 presidential campaign, saying it would “give our churches their voice back.”
If the Johnson Amendment had been repealed, the House bill would have temporarily allowed nonprofits to participate in political speech as long as the organization didn’t incur significant expenses while doing so, according to a report in The Hill.
Under budget rules, if the Senate wants to pass the tax bill with a simple-majority vote, the bill can’t contain provisions that are not budget-focused.
Narrow in scope, the amendment does not stop churches from engaging in all political activity, such as voter registration drives, and pastors are allowed to speak about political issues.
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