Weakening the Prohibition on Campaigning by Religious Institutions Will Open Elections to Taxpayer-Subsidized Dark Money


The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) released the following statements based on reports that the White House plans to sign an executive order today aimed at weakening the enforcement of the measure prohibiting tax-exempt religious institutions from engaging in political activities:

“For decades, the charitable political activities prohibition has kept tax-exempt religious institutions focused on their religious missions, freeing them from the pressures associated with partisan political campaigns,” said Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center. “The charitable political activities prohibition was adopted and has been supported on a bipartisan basis by administrations of both political parties since the 1950’s. Opening the door to a flood of unaccountable political money will undermine the purely charitable purpose of religious institutions.”

"Rolling back enforcement of limitations on partisan activity by religious institutions could offer wealthy donors a way to not only influence elections anonymously, but also get a charitable tax deduction for doing so," said Brendan Fischer, federal and FEC reform program director at the Campaign Legal Center. “Religious leaders are already allowed to discuss political matters; they are just not able to use tax-deductible resources to engage in partisan electoral activity.”

The so-called “Johnson Amendment” refers to language that bars organizations incorporated under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code – which includes religious institutions, but also an array of charities – from endorsing candidates and participating in political campaign activities.

Read our white paper on the history of the Johnson Amendment and the consequences of today’s action.