Political, not Partisan: Signing on with other Nonprofits to Stay Accountable
We’ve signed another letter to lawmakers, but not one about safety-net programs. Let’s talk about why.
Political action – what we describe at the St. Louis Area Foodbank as “advocacy” – is a critical part of what we do. We work hard to address hungry people’s immediate needs and to work towards eliminating hunger in our community, and we cannot do that without being politically engaged. After all, how can we work towards a hunger-free future if we don’t work with our leaders and try to inform the laws that shape that future? And so we support the policies that strengthen hunger-relief programs and oppose those that threaten them.
So we are political. We work with the public, other nonprofits, and the government; it’s unavoidable.
But being politically active and being politically partisan is not the same thing.
As a nonprofit organization we are firmly nonpartisan, and this makes sense because hunger is a nonpartisan issue. Viable solutions demand everybody’s participation and cooperation, and we want to remain a safe and trustworthy place for the public that supports us, the volunteers that visit us, and the agencies that work alongside us.
But in February during the National Prayer Breakfast, the president promised to undo the Johnson Amendment, a section of tax law that ensures nonprofits steer clear of partisan politics. In fact, several bills have already been introduced in Congress this year that would nearly or completely do just that.
This provision requires that organizations with tax-exempt status – charitable nonprofits, foundations, and religious organizations – “not 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.”
In other words, as the law now stands, our work and funding must remain focused on feeding hungry people, not on the success or failure of any politicians. Our ability to pursue political action is limited and clearly defined, ensuring that the public support we receive is being spent on our mission and not on partisan politics. If the law changes, however, we could be targeted by political campaigns for support or donations. And worse, we could lose the public’s trust – trust we need to keep our shelves stocked and our neighbors’ bellies full.
And that’s why we joined nonprofit organizations across the nation and signed a letter initiated by the National Council of Nonprofits urging our lawmakers to protect the laws that protect nonprofits and hold us accountable.
Hunger, after all, is everybody’s problem. Why drag it into the political mire and dilute critical hunger-relief work with partisanship?
Read more about the Johnson Amendment, the proposed bills, and the letter we’ve signed here. And stay connected with us for updates about our political – not partisan – actions.