Alliance for Charitable Reform: Debating the Johnson Amendment (In the News)

Alliance for Charitable Reform: Debating the Johnson Amendment 

David Keating: The current law is poorly written. Given that it was added on the Senate floor in 1954 with no hearings or substantial debate, that’s not surprising. Lyndon Johnson wasn’t looking out for the integrity of the political system or charitable groups when he proposed the amendment. He was concerned about his own reelection prospects after winning by just 87 votes in his 1948 reelection campaign…

Some of the activities banned by the Johnson amendment are clear. Charities may not spend money on ads endorsing a candidate. Charities may not donate to candidate committees, political parties or political committees (PACs). Beyond that, no one knows for sure. That’s a problem, and a big one, because vague laws chill our First Amendment speech rights…

The problems created by the Johnson amendment are getting worse, not better. As everyone knows, the news business has fallen on hard times since the internet cut classified and display advertising and created many new competitors. As a result many news organizations have become 501(c)(3) charities. Does “publishing statements” on candidates or a political campaign endanger such a news organization’s tax status?