At the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA), we advocate for policies that make kids safer, healthier, and happier. We have passionately pushed reforms and improvements within the Department of Human Service’s Child Welfare Services division, for instance, and against legislation that would roll-back the criminal justice reforms recently approved by voters. Earlier this year we endorsed a bill that would help schools fight hunger by working more closely with food banks and other non-profits.
We pride ourselves in being an active, policy-driven organization that directly impacts public policy. What we have no interest in being – and, in fact, are legally prohibited from being – a partisan organization. We do not and cannot endorse candidates for office or work to help any political party; our neutrality is a legal condition of keeping our tax-exempt status.
Our non-partisan status is also an important part of our identity and our mission. We do not exist to support Republicans or Democrats; we exist to support children. We think that distinction is also important for the public, who might otherwise dismiss our work as political “spin.”
For all these reasons, we at OICA are alarmed by proposed changes to the portion of federal law – called the Johnson Amendment – which prohibits tax exempt non-profits like OICA from becoming politically engaged, endorsing candidates or supporting political parties.
Modifying the Johnson Amendment could damage the trust placed in the charitable sector by injecting partisan politics and pressures into the non-profit community.
Our fear is the only people who would benefit from changing this law would be political candidates. We would likely see the creation of new nonprofits used solely to benefit political campaigns while existing and established non-profits were pressured to pick sides and endorse one candidate over another.
Individuals working for nonprofits may endorse candidates themselves, and that protection should be guaranteed since that person pays taxes. Organizations that enjoy the benefit of a tax exemption should not be allowed the same partisan activity as the employee.
The Johnson Amendment has served for more than six decades to maintain a neutral and level playing field for nonprofit organizations. Crossing this line into candidate endorsement would be harmful to the integrity of the nonprofit sector and the sense of trust with the public regarding these programs and their true mission.
You can find contact information for the two U.S. senators and your congressman from Oklahoma here.
While OICA usually engages in state (and not federal) policies, we are asking our supporters to reach out to the members of our federal delegation regarding this issue. Share with them these concerns regarding the integrity of nonprofit organizations and ask them to not allow nonprofits to engage in campaigns. Please keep these programs with a tax-exempt status in the mission of doing good work for people and out of the business of campaigns.