Setting the record straight on charities and political speech

Mar 15, 2018

By Tim Delaney

There’s a core American belief that just about everyone agrees with regardless of political stripes: People employed to serve the public good should not, in their official capacity, endorse or oppose candidates for public office. That core belief, long codified in federal and state laws, holds true for all public servants, whether they are government employees or representatives of charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, or foundations. Yet, some in Congress are seeking to repeal or weaken this important taxpayer protection in the omnibus spending bill.

We all received a reminder of this core value when news broke that presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway allegedly violated the Hatch Act by taking sides in the Alabama Senate race. How the White House responded has undeniable implications for the generations-old Johnson Amendment that similarly curbs partisan endorsements by charitable, religious and philanthropic organizations.

Last week, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel announced its determination that Conway violated the Hatch Act when she engaged in partisan, election-related speech on two television interviews last year. The White House responded that Conway “did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate,” which is the legal standard under the Hatch Act. The response stressed, “In fact, Kellyanne’s statements actually show her intention and desire to comply with the Hatch Act, as she twice declined to respond to the host’s specific invitation to encourage Alabamians to vote for the Republican.”

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