Friday, February 3, 2017

Trump's Johnson Amendment promise

Donald Trump has vowed to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment which precludes 501(c)3 tax-exempt organizations from engaging in politics. Repeal is the fever dream of conservative Christians in order to be permitted to endorse political candidates and raise money for them from the pulpit. Alliance Defending Freedom lawyers have complained for years that the Johnson Amendment is an imposition on free speech because it effectively censors sermons.

The reality is that Trump cannot repeal laws. Only Congress can do that and, at least as currently structured, that would require 60 votes in the Senate unless they can tack in onto a budget bill.

Turning churches into political organizations sounds like a terrible idea — for them — that will cause them to stray from their mission. Religion is already in decline and this would seem to be corrosive. What no one seems to be discussing, however, is that repeal would effect a massive overhaul of the tax code.

For starters, why would anyone donate money directly to a party or candidate when they can use a charity or church as a conduit and get a tax deduction? Americans donate tens of billions of dollars each year to political causes. The top 100 families are responsible for nearly 12% of this. What is the effect on the national budget if that money becomes tax deductible? Moreover, would federal contribution limits have any real meaning at all? Super-PACS are already raising a half-billion dollars or more pre year and 60% of that money is coming from just 100 donors. Imagine the Waltons (Wal-Mart) competing with the likes of George Soros with tax-deducted contributions that are subject to no disclosure whatsoever through the creation of new 501(c)3 organizations.
Currently many organizations are split into a 501(c)3 charity and 501(c)4 political action entity. That structure applies to National Organization for Marriage. It also applies to the Human Rights Campaign. In theory at least, both organizations could consolidate and operate out of their 501(c)3 to which donations are tax deductible. Moreover, do we really want to see the “Roman Catholic Diocese of New York Political Giving Fund?”

This could also create a decline in real charitable giving if politics is comparable tax-wise.

Don't we have enough goddamned money in politics? Repeal of the Johnson Amendment will only create more campaign cash from large non-profit organizations. Call me a cynic but those organizations are going to expect something in return. At a time when we should be reining in all this money with campaign finance reform, these folks want to do just the opposite. If you liked the ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission you're going to love the repeal of the Johnson Amendment. Is it possible to repeal the Johnson Amendment while modifying the tax code to prevent the cash-infused-zombie-apocalypse? Sure. Will they? Probably not. At least not if they think that more money, on balance, will flow to GOPers. Bipartisan cooperation for the common good simply doesn't exist anymore.

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