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Leave law as it is

No politics in nonprofits, church by Stephanie Ellis and Megan J. Pike Special to the Democrat-Gazette | November 10, 2017 at 2:02 a.m.

In a nation so divided, partisanship seems to seep into every sphere of our society. A few places still exist, though, where we can find refuge from politics and division. Our nonprofits and our churches act as safe havens where we all work together, regardless of political leanings, in a spirit of unity to enrich our communities, but efforts to infuse partisanship into 501(c)(3) organizations would bring harm to many.

We come to this discussion with different perspectives, but we share the same viewpoint on the benefits of the law. I, Stephanie Ellis, am the director of a nonprofit that strives to eliminate poverty, and I, Megan J. Pike, am an ordained minister who serves on the board of a nonprofit network serving young nonprofit professionals. We both know that this peace is made possible by our federal tax code that shields nonprofits and churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates.

For more than 60 years, this part of federal tax law, sometimes called the Johnson Amendment, has kept partisanship out of our organizations. By refraining from political endorsements, our organizations can focus our time and resources on our missions and doing the most good.

Recently, some in Washington have introduced efforts to roll back this safeguard, threatening that very law which has allowed our nonprofit sector to remain mission-focused for so long. If their harmful efforts are successful, the people of Arkansas we serve will bear the brunt of the consequences.

Infiltrating our nonprofit organizations with partisan politics makes our missions vulnerable to external pressure and threatens our foundations. Candidates would pressure us for endorsements, threatening any chance of cooperation if we endorse the wrong candidate.

A change in the law also would divide organizations and congregations over which candidates to endorse in an election. Imagine board meetings turned into political debates instead of focusing on the organization's work. Peaceful community collaboration with elected officials of any political party would become nearly impossible.

Perhaps most detrimental, politicizing nonprofits would risk losing the very donations that support our work. Donors may pull their support if they see that our organization endorses a candidate that they personally oppose. Additionally, our financial supporters would fear that their contributions would go toward funding campaigns rather than a meaningful cause.

Resources are already scarce at many Arkansas nonprofits. Diverting funds to partisan political purposes would make it impossible for us to properly provide our communities with essential services.

We serve people from all walks of life, and no one should feel like they are not welcome to receive services because of a partisan label. Nonprofit organizations also work with volunteers who have a variety of beliefs, but they all share the common goal of bettering our communities.

Keeping nonprofits nonpartisan ensures our clients and volunteers that, no matter their personal political affiliation, they will always be welcomed at our organizations.

Removing or weakening the part of our federal tax code known as the Johnson Amendment will drastically change organizations that are working for the common good. For decades, we have stayed nonpartisan, transcending the world of politics and self-interest as we work for the best interests of our communities. Inserting politics in the work that we do may benefit political candidates, but it will hurt the millions of people organizations like ours assist.

Changing the law is unnecessary, and it would be damaging to nonprofits in our state and across the country. When considering the matter, we encourage our political leaders to remember the old adage: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."


Stephanie Ellis is the CEO of ARVAC Inc. in Dardanelle. Rev. Megan J. Pike is service chair on the board of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network-Little Rock.

Editorial on 11/10/2017

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