Issued on May 4, 2017
On May 4, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” Section 2 of the order ensures that the “Department of the Treasury [will] not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about…political issues from a religious perspective.” An adverse action, as defined in the order is an  imposition of tax or penalty, or  the delay or denial of tax – exempt status. Churches and religious organizations in the United States are tax – exempt under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code with certain restrictions against political activities. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
The executive order signed by President Trump will have serious repercussions for campaign finance, not religious liberty or free speech. The danger with President’s Trump order to relax IRS actions against those religious organizations who endorse or advocate for a particular candidate is that corporations and unions may now contribute monies to churches in the hopes that the church will endorse the candidate the corporations or unions prefer. Corporations and unions were prohibited from contributing to candidates prior to 2010. After 2010, they needed to create a Super PAC (Political Action Committee), which currently have no limits on the amount of contributions it can accept.
With this order, corporations and unions now have a vehicle to make unlimited campaign contributions (Individuals are restricted to $5,400 a year per candidate). With the threat of losing their tax – exempt status no longer looming, churches can spend hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. elections and become much more influential in selecting candidates and influencing policy initiatives favorable to the church and their corporate donors. This will diminish the voice of the ordinary American citizen because a single person cannot match the amounts that corporations and unions can contribute. Only those with the most money would seem to have a voice in American politics. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – info page on campaign finance issues.
- National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) – info page on campaign finance at the state and federal level.
- Public Citizen – nonprofit advocating against money influencing elections among other democracy issues.
This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.