February 10, 2017

CUA Law Professor Roger Colinvaux was part of a debate sponsored by U.S. News and World Report about whether to heed Donald Trump's call to "destroy" the Johnson Amendment, a rule of tax law that prohibits charities and other 501(c)(3) organizations from intervening in political campaigns. Colinvaux has written extensively on the topic of political activity and tax exemption. See below

Keep Dark Money Out of Charity

U.S. News & World Report
February 10, 2017
Roger Colinvaux

Why do we have a charitable sector and a tax deduction for charitable contributions? If you answer "to help fund political campaigns through campaign intervention," then repeal of the Johnson Amendment is for you. But if you answer "to help charities do good work through social services, education, religion and scientific research irrespective of political beliefs," then you should support the Johnson Amendment and its role in keeping politics and charity separate.

The most important consideration in the debate about the Johnson Amendment is the health and vitality of the charitable sector as a whole. To see why repeal or even relaxation of the Johnson Amendment would undermine the "independent sector," look no further than the aftermath of the Citizens United decision.

Before Citizens United, organized electoral activity occurred through the political parties, political committees or independent PACs. PACs are subject to an array of disclosure and reporting rules that do not apply to other nonprofits. Citizens United removed campaign finance restrictions and allowed nonprofits (other than charities) to engage directly in political speech. Citizens United thus opened what could be termed a dark-money loophole in the system, allowing partisan organizations to form under a nonprofit label and so avoid public disclosure of donors. Perhaps the best-known example was Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, which relied on vague tax law standards to argue successfully to the IRS that it was a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, not a political organization, and so not subject to disclosure rules.

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