In a conference call which PoliticusUSA was a part of, a senior White House official explained that the Trump administration’s religious liberty executive order would direct the IRS to enforce maximum discretion in enforcing the Johnson Amendment when it comes to religious leaders speaking about politics from the pulpit, which would, in essence, turn tax-exempt churches into Republican super PACs.
The Trump White House is changing the implementation of the Johnson Amendment to allow churches to act as defacto Republican super PACs.
To fully understand what this change means for the role of special interest money in politics, it is vital to understand what the Johnson Amendment is.
The Johnson Amendment is a piece of legislation that was passed in 1954 that did not allow religious organizations to, “Participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of – or in opposition to – any candidate for public office.”
The Trump executive order will smash the boundary between church and state by allowing churches to electioneer from the pulpit. In campaign finance terms, it will open the door for churches to act as powerful super PACs that can dump dark money into US politics with zero accountability.
The good news is that Trump’s executive order will almost certainly face an immediate legal challenge. The bad news is that the recent precedent in campaign finance law rulings suggest that the order will be ruled constitutional if it reaches the Supreme Court.
With historically bad approval ratings, Trump is doing everything possible to please his base. Christian conservatives have targeted the Johnson Amendment for decades, and while Trump’s action is certain to make them happy, it will signal a dark day for both campaign finance laws and the separation of church and state.