Since Citizens United, wealthy donors have been able to to make donations to political campaigns in complete anonymity. A single amendment Republican lawmakers just added to an upcoming tax bill will allow them to funnel this “dark money” through churches and nonprofits – and get a tax break for doing so.
“This is taxpayer-subsidized Citizens United,” said Ian Vandewalker of the Brennan Center for Justice. Citizens United is an infamous 2010 Supreme Court case which has opened the floodgates for secret campaign spending. According to the Campaign Legal Center, at least $800 million of dark money has been secretly spent on political campaigns since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling.
The new language comes as a result of President Trump’s promise that he “will get rid of, and totally destroy, the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”
The Johnson Act allows pastors to speak on specific political issues, but threatens to rescind a church’s tax-exempt status if they endorse specific political candidates from the pulpit. Trump has consistently attacked the Johnson Act to appeal to the religious right, which make up a large percentage of his supporters, framing the act as an assault on free speech.
This new language, which Republicans will have to rush through Congress before Democrats take control of the House next year, would not only allow tax-free dark money to flow through churches advocating for specific candidates, but any nonprofit organization as well.
This tax break will likely incentivize dark money donors to give to churches and nonprofits instead of Super PACs, whose money was at least taxed. The non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation estimates this rule change would cost the US treasury around $2.1 billion over the next decade in lost revenue.
“For the first time in history, it would make campaign contributions tax deductible. It will completely change American politics and certainly alter forever the independence of charitable nonprofits,” said Tim Delaney, chairman of the National Council of Nonprofits.
Over 4,000 faith leaders from all 50 states signed a letter urging Congress to keep the Johnson Amendment in place.
“Repealing the Johnson Amendment effectively creates ‘Republican Churches’ and ‘Democrat Churches,’ wrote Rev. Charles Smith of Madison Baptist Church. “In valuing diversity, I prefer to keep partisan politics out of the church,”
Nathan Wellman is a Grit Post contributing editor in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @LIGHTNINGWOW. You can also email him at info AT gritpost DOT com.