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Dem: Tax bill doesn’t have measure allowing churches to endorse candidates

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Dem: Tax bill doesn't have measure allowing churches to endorse candidates

A Democratic senator says a proposal in the GOP tax bill allowing churches and charities to engage in partisan politics has been blocked by the Senate parliamentarian.

Sen. Ron Wyden ‘s (D-Ore.) office confirmed to The Hill on Thursday night that the Senate parliamentarian had blocked the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which would have let churches endorse political candidates.

“I will continue to fight all attempts to eliminate this critical provision that keeps the sanctity of our religious institutions intact, prevents the flow of dark money in politics, and keeps taxpayer dollars from advancing special interest biddings,” Wyden said in a statement first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said he was “disappointed” that the measure was not allowed into the tax bill.

“The federal government and the IRS should never have the ability, through our tax code, to limit free speech; this tax reform bill was an appropriate place to address this historic tax problem,” he said in a statement shared with The Hill.

“Nonprofits are allowed to lobby Congress or their local elected officials, but the ambiguity of the current tax code keeps non-profits in constant fear that they might have crossed a line that no other organization has to consider,” he added.

The repeal of the Johnson Amendment was originally added to the House-passed bill last month, though it was not in the Senate bill.

The proposal was a major priority for President Trump , who vowed to repeal the amendment during the 2016 presidential campaign, saying it would “give our churches their voice back.”

Specifically, the House bill would have temporarily allowed nonprofits to engage in political speech in the ordinary course of its activities, so long as the organization didn’t incur significant expenses while doing so.

Under budget rules, if the Senate wants to pass the tax bill with a simple-majority vote, the bill can’t contain provisions that are not budget-focused.

The Johnson Amendment, named for then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson, has been part of the tax code since 1954. It prohibits churches and other tax-exempt organizations from participating in some political activity.

The provision is narrow in scope and does not prevent churches from engaging in voter registration drives or pastors from speaking about political issues.

– John Bowden contributed

Updated: 10:15 p.m.

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