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Letter: Charitable nonprofits

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Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Deseret News

The identity, integrity and independence of Utah’s 6,000 charitable nonprofits that work every day to solve problems in our communities in a nonpartisan way is under attack in Washington, D.C. Being nonprofit, staying above the fray of politics, is a hallmark of Utah’s charitable nonprofits. But some in Congress want to radically alter the protection in current law that shields 501(c)(3) organizations from demands for endorsements and campaign cash from politicians, their consultants, and excessively partisan donors.

Known as the “Johnson Amendment,” and a fixture since President Eisenhower signed the tax reform act of 1954, the law provides a reasonable trade-off. In that, the provision of law shields the entire 501(c)(3) community, in Utah and across the country, against the rancor of partisan politics so the charitable community can be a safe haven where individuals of all beliefs come together to solve community problems free from partisan divisions.

Last week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services tucked a rider (Section 116) into the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, thus crippling the Johnson Amendment. This rider ensures increased difficulty for the Internal Revenue Service to enforce acts of politicking within charitable nonprofits. What that means is that the cherished nonprofits you trust and believe in (from your house of worship to your favorite museums or to the local food bank) could become a venue for partisan politics. Most of us don’t want there to be Republican charities or Democratic charities, and by weakening the IRS’ ability to enforce blatant acts of partisan electioneering, that will become our reality.

The truth is, however, that charitable nonprofits, including religious congregations, already are free to speak on important matters affecting their missions or beliefs and advocate on public policy issues and legislation. The law merely prohibits partisan campaign intervention, defined to include endorsing or opposing candidates for public office, publishing or distributing statements for or against candidates, or using tax-deductible and other resources to support partisan campaign activities.

With this rider, donations you provide to charitable nonprofits may be funneled away from supporting the mission of the organization to influence political activities. Charitable nonprofits may be called upon to endorse political candidates and the political parties they represent. If the organization chooses to stand by its mission instead of endorse a political candidate, it will be at risk of losing funding. The long-term effects would hurt the nonprofits you love, depend on and respect.

Central to Utahns is our compassion for the people in our communities who are less fortunate, our love of our community and our life elevated. A community without nonpartisan nonprofit organizations such as museums, food pantries and dinosaur parks is a dreary one indeed. Efforts to weaken the Johnson Amendment are a solution in search of a problem. Charitable nonprofits are essential to our well-being, and Congress should respect that.

Kate Rubalcava

CEO for Utah Nonprofits Association

Salt Lake City