Beneath the Provisions of the Tax Code, Lies a Campaign Financing Dark Channel

Hidden deep in the Republican tax bill is a proposal that will see the Johnson Amendment watered down. The proposal seeks to allow charities and more so churches to engage in open electioneering. The proposal will definitely have a huge impact on the American campaign finance system. Since its inception in 1954, the Johnson Amendment has prevented tax-exempt charitable institutions from using their platforms for endorsing candidates in elections. The greatest fear, however, is that the organizations of charity might be turned into avenues to channel campaign funds to specific campaigns. This, as it is, will go against the reasons for the tax exempt status they enjoy.

The proposals in the tax bill will allow wealthy financiers to make donations to charities in exchange for endorsements of specific candidates. What is more is that the billionaire donors can go ahead and claim tax relief from such donations. While the contributions will be outrightly political, they will not look any different from other charitable donations for tax purposes. The church remains a tax-exempt organization, and the billionaire donor gets to channel campaign funds with a definite tax write off.

Most Americans, however, are not excited by the proposal. There is need to keep campaigns from some specific aspects of society. Not very many religious leaders are excited at the proposal either. This was seen as more than four thousand religious leaders signed a letter in support of the Johnson Amendment. The leaders argued the current status provided by the Johnson Amendment is adequate as it provides churches and other charities a reasonable limit to engage in politics. While church institutions can participate in advocacy to promote a moral agenda, they cannot outrightly tell congregations who to vote for in an election. Up to five thousand not for profit organizations too waded into the debate and signed a similar letter saying the Johnson Amendment adequately protected the integrity of charitable institutions.

As things stand, the Johnson amendment stops dark money from seeping into the campaign system and the idea to allow churches to be used for purposes of introducing dark money into the political system is detestable. As the affront to the Johnson Amendment continued, End Citizens United has had to shift its focus to the Republican tax bill. The Political Action Committee that was formed to fight the Supreme Court decision of 2010 that saw an introduction of dark money into politics, now sees the tax code as an extended affront on campaign financing reforms. While previously the threat of dark money in campaigns was from corporations, a new avenue was opening that includes charities. ECU hopes to mobilize as much support for candidates who will carry out the campaign agenda in Congress and the Senate.

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