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Utah Nonprofit Collective Worries As U.S. House Targets Johnson Amendment

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Last week, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would change how the IRS investigates nonprofit spending. 

While not issuing a statement, the LDS Church would be one of many religious organizations affected by the change. Last Thursday, Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, claimed that ‘weakening’ the Johnson Amendment would expose churches “to the woolly wilderness of partisan campaigning.”

In February, President Donald Trump said he would “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment.

But what does the law do exactly?

“The Johnson Amendment ensures that nonprofit organizations, which include churches, foundations and public charities, have the ability to serve their missions without stepping into the political arena and participating in campaign activities,” said Kate Rubalcava, CEO of the Utah Nonprofits Association.

Such “campaign activities” forbidden to nonprofits include making campaign donations as well as issuing statements, positive or negative, about any candidate for office -- actions that a super-PAC would normally perform.

The law is nearly half a century old. But now, Kate worries a spending bill which would alter how the IRS investigates spending by charities may politicize nonprofits.

“Section 116 within the provision removes the IRS from being able to investigate public charities crossing that political line,” she said.

Rubalcava claimed that the good nonprofits do for society would be hampered by political activity.

“We are instead focused on what we are doing within our community like providing a wonderful trail way, affordable daycare services, afterschool programming or a food pantry,” she said. “We’re making sure those things are occurring in our communities and we’re not focused on a political agenda.”

The bill passed the House Appropriations Committee last Thursday and will now move on to the House and Senate.