A Modest Proposal: The Imperative of Replacing the Johnson Amendment
Our campaign finance system could generously be described as an exercise in insanity. Consider the rude reality of a system that allows the elite to dominate our elections yet silences the free speech of local membership organizations.
Every election cycle you are subjugated to potentially millions of dollars of Super PAC ads – often funded by a single or a handful of individuals- that may be hostile to your worldview. You can try to avoid the ads, but, in the digital age, it’s growing even harder. These ads come from people you don’t know, are not accountable to anyone, and have limitless funding. Our system says that’s ok.
But, the church or civic organization you are a member of or the educational group you support must remain silent. The people you know, who know you, and who share a common belief system with you cannot provide you with political information. Our system says that is not ok.
Let’s stop the insanity.
Now, we do not want to open everything up and make the 501c3 landscape a new Wild West. Turning religious entities and educational organizations into political machines is the last thing we want. So, here’s what we propose as central components for what we are calling the “Trusted Sources for Election Information Act”:
- Allow 501c3 organizations that are membership-based to express a political viewpoint, including candidate endorsements to those members.
- This means such an organization could provide information via email, letter, or other means of minimal expense to a list of members.
- For the purposes of a verbal endorsement or expression, such articulation may be made at an event, meeting, or service that consists primarily of members yet is not exclusive. In practice this means, for example, a pastor could make express political views freely during a church service, Sunday School class, or church-led Bible study- even though some non-members may be in attendance. The church could not, however, hold a rally in support of a particular candidate with the goal or bringing in the general public.
- Outreach to non-members or promoting political viewpoints/endorsements to the general public is prohibited.
- In practice, this would bar a 501c3 organization from going door to door for a candidate, sending out a mail piece to the general population, or paying for digital advertising.
- 501c3 engagement should be framed locally to assist local voters. Through geographic or other parameters, this legislation should empower local chapters or churches- not give license to national entities to play in local elections.
These solutions prevent churches or educational organizations from functioning as political vehicles or vessels for candidates. However, it helps offset the impact of big money PACs and special interests by allowing for information to come from the sources people trust and connect with.
Take Back Our Republic Executive Director John Pudner previously outlined his concerns with the Johnson Amendment here: https://thehill.com/opinion/civil-rights/381299-no-place-for-washington-to-punish-churches-over-politics. It is our hope that this common-sense solution will have bi-partisan support, protect First Amendment rights for all Americans, and improve our election system.
What do you think? Is this a good balance for empowering 501c3s yet ensuring they don’t become campaign conduits? Is another solution better? Join the conversation at: https://www.facebook.com/takebackorg/.
The Take Back Our Republic “Modest Proposal” series is aimed at compromise, bi-partisan solutions that would be significant for the reform movement- addressing the root of the problem instead of simply the symptom.