Advocacy Alert: Johnson Amendment

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Maine Philanthropic Network’s Advocacy Committee has expressed concern about efforts to weaken and repeal the Johnson Amendment.

The Maine Philanthropy Center has recently communicated to Congresswoman Chellie Pingree our opposition to such efforts, including a recent rider to a House Appropriations Committee bill, and will be contacting the rest of our congressional delegation soon. In addition, we’ve signed onto the Community Sign on Letter.

The Community Sign on Letter is a collaborative initiative led by National Council of Nonprofits, Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, BoardSource, Council on Foundations, United Philanthropy Forum (Formerly Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers), Habitat for Humanity International, Independent Sector, Jewish Federations of North America, National Human Services Assembly, and Volunteers of America to coordinate with organizations to sign onto a joint letter to Congress raising concerns with attacks on the Johnson Amendment. So far, there are over 5400 signatures from all across the United States.

This issue is of concern for both funders and your nonprofit grantees and is an opportunity for philanthropy to have its voice be heard. To learn more about the issue, see this fact sheet (opens as a pdf). For the latest on what’s happening in Washington, D.C. on this issue, go to MANP’s action alert.

Taking Action

Individual philanthropies in Maine can also express concern about these latest Johnson Amendment efforts. Uncertain as to whether your organization can get involved?

Public charities and 501c3 organizations can advocate on legislation like this. Private foundations can also legally take action in this case due to the self-defense exception. The newly titled United Philanthropy Forum (formerly the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers) shared this guidance in its recent newsletter:

"According to a determination by the Council on Foundations, it is legally permissible for private foundations to lobby on legislation related to the Johnson Amendment, under the self-defense exception. Private foundations are barred by law from lobbying with a few exceptions, and one such exception is the self-defense exception. As described by the Alliance for Justice [opens as a pdf], the self-defense exception allows a private foundation to communicate with legislators to express an opinion about any legislation that “could affect the organization’s existence, powers, duties, tax-exempt status, or the deductibility of contributions to the organization.” It is the Council on Foundations’ position that any proposed legislation that would repeal or modify the Johnson Amendment would directly affect the powers and duties of a private foundation or other exempt organization."

Here are some ways that your individual organization can take action:

  • Join other grantmakers from across the nation in signing onto the Community Sign on Letter and add your organization’s name. The sign on opportunity has been reopened. Once closed, our delegation will receive the letter featuring the Maine signatories.
  • Reach out to our congressional delegation directly and ask them to oppose efforts to repeal and weaken the Johnson Amendment. For more information including the delegation’s contact details, check out MANP’s blog.


Your board has not yet discussed your organization’s potential involvement in advocacy?
  • Think about putting the topic of your foundation’s role in advocacy on your next board meeting agenda and use this issue as a discussion starter.


MPC can help! If you have questions or need further assistance on how to proceed, please feel free to contact Jenn Burns Gray, MPC’s Director of Advocacy, at or 207-871-1885.


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