Trump's Religious Speech Order Could Boost Political Spend

President Donald Trump has provided a potential boost to media ad sales bottom lines with a new executive order billed as boosting religious free speech.

Among other things, the order potentially relaxes enforcement by the IRS of a tax code provision—the Johnson Amendment—that limits the ability of tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from supporting or opposing candidates, according to the Liberty Counsel, which supports the President's move.

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The relevant part of the order reads as follows:

"[T]he Secretary of the Treasury shall ensure, to the extent permitted by law, that the Department of the Treasury does not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective, where speech of similar character has, consistent with law, not ordinarily been treated as participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) a candidate for public office by the Department of the Treasury.  As used in this section, the term "adverse action" means the imposition of any tax or tax penalty; the delay or denial of tax-exempt status; the disallowance of tax deductions for contributions made to entities exempted from taxation under section 501(c)(3) of title 26, United States Code; or any other action that makes unavailable or denies any tax deduction, exemption, credit, or benefit."

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Common Cause saw it as a way to expand the Citizens United decision, which allowed unions and corporations to endorse or oppose federal candidates in the run-ups to elections, to churches and nonprofits, which it argues will be another way for "Big Money" to make its way into campaigns, which usually translates into media buys.

"By funneling their political spending through charities and religious groups, big money donors will also get a tax deduction, forcing other taxpayers to foot the bill for this subsidized political activity," said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn.

The executive order was issued on the National Day of Prayer (May 4).

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.