Policy Alert: Amendment to Strike Section 116 failed, but it was close

Policy Alert

The amendment to strike Section 116 related to Johnson Amendment enforcement failed by a vote of 24 to 28. The vote on nonpartisanship was not by party line as feared. Two Republicans, Charles Dent (R-PA) and Scott Taylor (R-VA) voted with all Democrats to remove the measure that would make it virtually impossible for the IRS to enforce the Johnson Amendment against even grievous violations of the Johnson Amendment.

The National Council of Nonprofits issued a news release: “Nonprofits to Congress: Don’t Politicize Houses of Worship” that we encourage you to share with your networks.

The debate on the amendment offered by Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) was a joy to behold. Almost.

The speakers in support of the amendment were Wasserman Schultz, Lee, Katherine Clark (D-MA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Betty McCullum (D-MN), David Price (D-NC), and Mike Quigley (D-IL). They did not focus heavy emphasis on dark money, evasion of campaign finance, or converting churches into conduits for political campaigns, although those issues were presented. Instead, each talked about the integrity of houses of worship and nonprofits, and their ability to speak to the issues of the day without restriction. Rep. Wasserman Schultz said the Johnson Amendment “protects integrity of nonprofits.” Several speakers laid out the significant constitutional challenges in Section 116, in that the provision would provide a special benefit to churches in violation of the Establishment Clause. Each referenced the views of the vast majority of religious institutions, charitable nonprofits, and the public, citing letters and polling data.

Without access to the tape or the transcript yet, I’ll highlight two speakers because they stood to present our case at the behest of our network colleagues. Rep. McCullum quoted directly from a letter from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits explaining that “nonprofits are safe places where people can come together without the posturing and recrimination that pulls us apart.” Rep. Price channeled the messaging from the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits when he encouraged his colleagues to preserve nonprofit nonpartisanship to “protect the safeguards that have served us so well.” He said members of the Committee needed to “consult common sense before taking the step” of “bringing partisan politics into churches.” Price stated emphatically, “What we do not want to do is legitimize using religion as a conduit for political activities.” And my favorite, “let’s not act on the basis of hysterical charges” (that have no basis in fact) from the religious right.

This last point is poignant because the main speaker (of two) in opposition to the amendment was Rep. John Abney Culberson (R-TX) who asked to have Section 116 added to the bill. He claimed that it was cleared by the House Ways and Means and admitted forthrightly that his goal was to prevent the IRS from “interfering” with churches. Rep. Culberson asserted incorrectly that President Johnson had the IRS issue regulations that Culberson hopes the Trump Administration will overturn. Calling it the “Johnson Rule,” he alleged that it was “designed to squelch political speech from the pulpit,” and asked “why should preachers have their thoughts be suppressed?” He explained that he wants to block the IRS from acting because of the experience of the Second Baptist Church in his district that was sued by the People for the American Way for distributing voter brochures; “can you believe it?” he asked rhetorically.

We’ll have more about the markup tomorrow. For now, here’s the vote tally:

Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, New Jersey, Chairman NO
Harold Rogers, Kentucky NO
Robert B. Aderholt, Alabama NO
Kay Granger, Texas NO
Michael K. Simpson, Idaho NO
John Abney Culberson, Texas NO
John R. Carter, Texas NO
Ken Calvert, California NO
Tom Cole, Oklahoma NO
Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida NO
Charles W. Dent, Pennsylvania YES
Tom Graves, Georgia NO
Kevin Yoder, Kansas NO
Steve Womack, Arkansas NO
Jeff Fortenberry, Nebraska NO
Thomas J. Rooney, Florida NO
Charles J. Fleischmann, Tennessee NO
Jaime Herrera Beutler, Washington NO
David P. Joyce, Ohio NO
David G. Valadao, California NO
Andy Harris, MD, Maryland NO
Martha Roby, Alabama NO
Mark E. Amodei, Nevada NO
Chris Stewart, Utah NO
David Young, Iowa NO
Evan H. Jenkins, West Virginia NO
Steven Palazzo, Mississippi NO
Dan Newhouse, Washington NO
John R. Moolenaar, Michigan NO
Scott Taylor, Virginia YES
Nita M. Lowey, New York YES
Marcy Kaptur, Ohio YES
Peter J. Visclosky, Indiana YES
José E. Serrano, New York YES
Rosa L. DeLauro, Connecticut YES
David E. Price, North Carolina YES
Lucille Roybal-Allard, California YES
Sanford D. Bishop, Jr., Georgia YES
Barbara Lee, California YES
Betty McCollum, Minnesota YES
Tim Ryan, Ohio YES
C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland YES
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida YES
Henry Cuellar, Texas YES
Chellie Pingree, Maine YES
Mike Quigley, Illinois YES
Derek Kilmer, Washington YES
Matt Cartwright, Pennsylvania YES
Grace Meng, New York YES
Mark Pocan, Wisconsin YES
Katherine M. Clark, Massachusetts YES
Pete Aguilar, California YES