Keeping the Social Profit Sector Above the Political Fray

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

by Gretchen Greiner-Lott
Vice President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Earlier this month, Tamara wrote a piece called Using WRAG’s Voice on Issues That Matter. It described how WRAG is “uniquely positioned to influence public discourse, public policy and to alert public officials to policy alternatives.” Tamara’s blog emphasized that, moving forward, we will “use our platform to speak out on many more issues that matter.”

In that spirit, I attended Foundations on the Hill (FOTH) last week to observe how our regional association colleagues from across the country are working with their representatives in both the House and the Senate on a variety of philanthropy-related issues.

One of the key issues was the Johnson Amendment. Passed in 1954, this ammendment prohibits nonprofit organizations from engaging in partisan campaign activities. In brief, it keeps nonprofits above the “political fray” while continuing to serve as the trusted nonpartisan community problem solvers they are. Without this “firewall,” there is great concern that the charitable sector will become politicized and that many charitable contributions will be directed toward political campaigns rather than community issues.

During FOTH, I learned that most congressional staffers did not know about the Johnson Amendment generally nor did they know that there are several bills in the works to repeal it. After receiving information from FOTH delegations, these staffers understood it as important and said it was not at risk. While not immediately at risk, it was noted that the Amendment could be used as a bargaining chip during tax reform efforts that are expected this year.

Because of all this uncertainty, foundations and nonprofits around the country have signed on to a Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship, an initiative of 10 national nonprofit and philanthropy-serving organizations. The current plan is to send this community letter to Congressional members next week so there is a push to get folks to sign now. WRAG has signed. We hope you will consider adding your voice to this growing choir in support of the charitable sector.

WRAG will keep you informed as developments on this measure occur.

This piece was originally published in the Daily WRAG.