Last week, legislation was filed, entitled the “Free Speech Fairness Act,” which would permit nonprofit organizations to engage in political communications in the course of their regular and customary activities. The bill, H.R. 6195, aims to fix the 1954 “Johnson Amendment,” which bars churches and other nonprofit organizations from “participat[ing] in, or intervene[ing] in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”
Importantly, the proposed legislation does not repeal the Johnson Amendment; it simply amends the law to allow for political speech in the course of the nonprofit’s normal activities. In other words, the Free Speech Fairness Act relaxes the speech restrictions on nonprofit organizations and allows them to communicate freely with regard to political speech. Further, tax-exempt organizations will still be prohibited from financing a candidate or buying political advertisements to get certain candidates elected under the proposed legislation.
Although the Johnson Amendment is most often mentioned with regard to free speech in the pulpits of churches across the country, the practical effect of speech regulation under the current Internal Revenue Code is much further reaching insofar as it effects all nonprofit corporations, regardless of its organizational mission or political leanings. The Free Speech Fairness Act appears to be a bi-partisan, common sense solution to a regulation that affects nonprofit organizations of all types and sizes, so we will certainly keep an eye on the legislation to see whether it gains any traction on Capitol Hill.
Ben Schwefel is an Associate Attorney at The Loftin Firm. For questions relating to a business, nonprofit, or estate planning matter, contact Ben at 760-814-9649.