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Josh Mandel Targets Federal Law Prohibiting Churches From Endorsing Candidates

Josh Mandel
Mandel meets with Christian pastors in Cambridge.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel has created a faith outreach team whose first goal is repeal of a federal law prohibiting religious organizations and other charitable groups from backing political candidates.

Mandel, Ohio's state treasurer, says the 1954 Johnson Amendment is "overreaching." The amendment prohibits nonprofits with 501(c)3 tax-exempt status, including churches, universities and many foundations, from endorsing or opposing political candidates.

With the outreach effort, Mandel joins President Donald Trump and some congressional Republicans interested in easing the restrictions created by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson's amendment.

Opponents contend the act restricts freedom of religion and speech. Defenders say it prevents tax breaks on political spending by organizations shielded from certain reporting requirements.

According to NPR, "the amendment applies only to advocating for or against a specific candidate. Taking positions on issues is permitted."

In May, President Trump signed an executive order that calls on federal agencies to "honor and enforce" protections for religious liberty, but that order doesn't instruct the Treasury Department to enforce the Johnson Amendment differently. NPR reports that the amendment covers all tax-exempt charities, but its effect on churches has been rarely enforced.

Mandel's 2018 Republican rival, Cleveland businessman Mike Gibbons, also has sought to politically align with Trump.