My Turn: Nonprofits should be free of partisan politics

  • On May 4, President Donald Trump signs an executive order aimed at weakening the enforcement of a law that bars churches and tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 5/21/2017 12:25:08 AM

Every single day, almost every New Hampshire resident benefits from the work of a nonprofit. It might be an after-school program or elderly services. It could be a hospital or a school. It could be a park or it could be a theater.

Not only do New Hampshire’s charitable nonprofits enhance our daily lives, they also take on our toughest challenges. Homelessness, the opioid epidemic, job training – these are just some of the issues nonprofits take on with commitment, passion and expertise. In order to create solutions that address these challenges, advocacy is often in order.

Speaking up on behalf of an issue is critical to advancing a nonprofit’s mission. However, issue-oriented advocacy is very different from partisan electoral politics.

For more than 60 years, an important provision in the federal tax code, the Johnson Amendment, has protected 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organizations from being drawn into partisan politics, such as endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. However, new legislation in Congress and a recent executive order seek to allow nonprofits to participate in partisan campaigning.

Nonprofits do not want to engage in partisan politics. The political neutrality of nonprofits is important so they can continue as safe places where people can come together to solve community problems. Indeed, in a recent letter to Congress, 4,500 nonprofits around the country signed onto a Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship.

Nonprofits know how important it is to advocate, and it is expressly their nonpartisanship that makes their advocacy more powerful. Nonprofits promote solutions to problems, new ideas to enrich communities and the preservation of community assets.

Keeping nonprofits free from taking part in partisan politics makes sense. Do we want to see nonprofit budgets take on political campaign advertising? Do we want nonprofit employees to divert their time to work on political campaigns? These activities would cause harm by potentially politicizing the important work that nonprofits do to make our communities safer, healthier and more enjoyable to live in.

To sustain the public’s confidence in and support of the nonprofit sector, we need to keep the Johnson Amendment in place. Advocacy? Yes. Partisanship? No.

(Kathleen Reardon is CEO of the N.H. Center for Nonprofits.)

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