(New York State Capitol; Matt Wade, Creative Commons)

State legislators in New York passed a law codifying the Johnson Amendment, a federal rule that prohibits tax-exempt organizations including religious groups from contributing to political candidates or campaigns. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law on October 30.

New York’s state-level version of the law appears to be a response to the Trump Administration, which threatened to roll out an executive order striking down the Johnson Amendment in early 2017. The law enshrines the separation between church and state by preventing religious nonprofits from using tax-exempt resources to support political causes. As religious groups already enjoy less scrutiny from the IRS, repealing the Johnson Amendment would effectively turn religious organizations into processing centers for anonymous political funding. Furthermore, major political donors would shift their funding from Super PACs to charities, enjoying tax benefits while exerting enormous influence on the nation’s political processes.

Some religious organizations—including the anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom, which advocates for curtailing transgender rights around the globe—have called New York’s law an affront to First Amendment rights. These groups and their members, however, are free to express themselves politically as they always have been. They simply cannot use untaxed dollars to buy political favor with candidates and campaigns.

Ultimately, the repeal of the Johnson Amendment would only exacerbate the dark money problem that already plagues U.S. politics. The nation needs to move toward greater transparency and more just campaign finance laws rather than opening up new loopholes.

Charities enjoy unrivaled respect across the political spectrum, largely because of their distance from the political process. New York lawmakers have only reasserted a long-standing tradition in the nonprofit sector.

A tradition that’s worth upholding.


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