Join PEAK Grantmaking in Defending Nonpartisanship

March 27, 2017

Nonpartisanship is a cornerstone principle that has strengthened the public’s trust of the charitable and philanthropic community. The Johnson Amendment is a 60-year-old law that prevents 501c3 organizations from endorsing or financially supporting political candidates. President Trump has indicated his desire to repeal the amendment, and several bills have been introduced in Congress to repeal or severely weaken the law. The National Council of Nonprofits (NCN), Council on Foundations, Independent Sector, and Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers have issued statements opposing repeal of the amendment. A national campaign, led by NCN, is urging nonprofits and foundations to sign on to a letter opposing any repeal or weakening of the law. PEAK Grantmaking has lent its support to this campaign.

Please consider adding your organization’s name to the growing list of foundations and nonprofits that have signed on to a special Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship.  

According to a determination by the Council on Foundations, it is legally permissible for private foundations to lobby on legislation related to the Johnson Amendment, under the self-defense exception.

According to the Council on Foundations, if the Johnson Amendment were repealed, 501(c)(3) organizations could become entities that are given tax-deductible donations for the purpose of participating in the electoral process, and donors would be completely shielded from disclosure-hindering transparency. Because donors could deduct any contributions, as well shield their donations from disclosure, it would create an incentive for people to switch from giving money to PACs and super PACs (which are required to identify their donors) to 501(c)(3)s. 501(c)(3)s would be able to participate in influencing elections without disclosing their donors as long as “no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation.” Effectively, this would completely open the door to endorsing or opposing specific political candidates, while still maintaining restrictions for charities to lobby on behalf of issues and legislation.

As some 501(c)(3) organizations spend millions, and even billions, of dollars every year, this could result in exorbitant amounts of dollars being used to influence the electoral process without American taxpayers being able to scrutinize which parties are behind the contributions. Furthermore, private foundation CEOs, staffs and boards could find themselves feeling pressured to not only endorse political candidates at local, state and federal levels but to support them financially, draining resources that would otherwise be going to charitable purposes.

You can check out the growing list (by state) of more than 2,300 foundation, for-profit, and nonprofit organizations that have signed on to the letter already, including many PEAK Grantmaking members, such as Annie E. Casey Foundation, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Dyson Foundation, Ford Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Ruth Mott Foundation, Northwest Area Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and Wallace Global Fund.

The letter will be sent to Congress in early April, along with the list of organizations that have signed on to the letter, so if you sign the letter by March 31 you can ensure that your name is on that list.