Help Keep Partisan Politics Out of Philanthropy

April 3, 2017

Nonpartisanship is a cornerstone principle that has strengthened the public’s trust of the charitable and philanthropic community. At its March 2017 meeting, Philanthropy Northwest's board signed onto a statement urging national policymakers to protect the Johnson Amendment, the law prohibiting 501(c)(3) charitable organizations from endorsing, opposing or contributing to political candidates and engaging in partisan campaign activities. During our Foundations on the Hill meetings in Washington, D.C. last week, our delegation and other philanthropy networks from across the country urged our U.S. senators and representatives to maintain this important legal protection.

Background

Following President Trump’s vow to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, the Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee has said he intends to repeal the law as part of comprehensive tax reform, and the House Majority Whip is a lead sponsor (with 54 other U.S. representatives and senators) of legislation to severely weaken the protection. According to the Council on Foundations, if the Johnson Amendment were repealed, 501(c)(3) organizations could become entities that are given tax-deductible donations for the purpose of participating in the electoral process, and donors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, a core Philanthropy Northwest value. This would create an incentive for people to switch from giving money to PACs and super PACs (required to identify their donors) to 501(c)(3)s. Furthermore, 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.

Add Your Voice

Please consider adding your organization’s name to the growing list of more than 2,300 foundations and nonprofits that have signed a Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship, a statement that falls under the permissible “self-defense exception” for lobbying activities by private foundations. Philanthropy Northwest members that have already signed on include 501 Commons, Bullitt Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Cedarmere Foundation, The Foraker Group, Ford Foundation, Forest and Sequoia Foundatinos, Foundation for Healthy Generations, Idaho Nonprofit Center, Montana Community Foundation, Montana Nonprofit Association, Nonprofit Association of Oregon, Northwest Area Foundation, NW Children’s Fund, Orcas Island Community Foundation, Pride Foundation, Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, Satterberg Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Sherwood Trust, Skagit Community Foundation, Washington Nonprofits, Whatcom Community Foundation, Wyoming Nonprofit Network and Peg and Rick Young Foundation.

If you sign on by March 31, your organization’s name will be included in the statement submitted to Congress in early April. We hope you will join us to keep our sector free of partisan politics and maintain our role as trusted partners and conveners for everyone in our communities, regardless of political affiliation.

Audrey Haberman is interim CEO of Philanthropy Northwest and managing partner of The Giving Practice, our national consulting team. She can be reached at ahaberman@philanthropynw.org.