In mid-March, I headed to Washington, D.C. for my 18th time leading a delegation of Ohio’s philanthropy leaders at Foundations on the Hill (FOTH). Sponsored by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers (on whose board I serve, co-chairing the Government Relations Committee), the annual FOTH event engaged 300 people from 28 states in meaningful conversations with elected officials and their staff. Ohio was well represented, with 16 of us from across the state making the trip to D.C.
Wearing comfortable walking shoes for traipsing the marble halls of the House and Senate office buildings, with one-pagers and packets in hand, we started our day with an 8:30 a.m. coffee with Senator Portman and ended it talking with Rep. Tiberi’s chief of staff, having met with eight other offices during the intervening hours.
Among the thousands of visitors to congressional offices that day, philanthropy’s voice was strong and collective; although every state’s delegation focused on its own particular issues, many of us delivered two key messages:
- Don’t repeal the Johnson Amendment; and
- Preserve and protect the full scope and value of the charitable deduction.
The Johnson Amendment, adopted over 60 years ago, prohibits tax-exempt organizations from political campaigning. While nonprofits can lobby (within limits) on policy topics, they cannot support or endorse political candidates. We at Philanthropy Ohio, along with more than 2,300 other organizations, think that’s a good thing (and a recent poll shows that most Americans agree with us.) But President Trump promised at the National Prayer Breakfast to get rid of the prohibition and several members of Congress agree: HR 172 would repeal the provision, while S 264 and HR 781 would substantially weaken it (it has 53 co-sponsors including Reps. Jordan and Renacci). We’ll be reaching out to Ohio’s congressional delegation in coming weeks to urge them to vote against weakening or repealing this amendment that keeps nonprofits above the political fray and charitable dollars directed to addressing critical local needs and not filling campaign coffers.
We also asked our elected policymakers to preserve the charitable deduction, which allows taxpayers to deduct their charitable donations from their federal tax liability. About one-quarter of Ohioans do so, and collectively they gave over $6 billion to charities in one year alone. Current suggestions to double the standard deduction and eliminate the deduction for all but the top 5% of donors would, we believe, have a significant negative impact on giving.
Philanthropy is a strong, effective co-investor in communities and it was clear during our visits last month that our senators and representatives value the sector. But again and again, as we see the intent to pull back government funding from safety net services, we must make it clear that philanthropy cannot fill the resulting gap: there simply aren’t enough charitable dollars to replace public funding in education, health care, human services, the environment and so many other areas. We’ll be meeting with our delegation in their district offices in coming months to discuss these and other issues and I invite you to join us or to reach out individually to those who represent you in the 115th Congress.
Claudia Y.W. Herrold