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Another View -- Kathleen Reardon: NH nonprofits should remain nonpartisan

June 01. 2017 8:28PM

Every single day, almost every New Hampshire resident benefits from the work of a nonprofit. It might be an after-school program or elderly services. It could be a hospital or a school. It could be a park or it could be a theater.

Not only do New Hampshire’s charitable nonprofits enhance our daily lives, they also take on some of our toughest challenges. Homelessness, the opioid epidemic, job training, land conservation — these are just a few of the issues nonprofits take on with commitment, passion and expertise. In order to create solutions that address these challenges, advocacy is often in order.

Speaking up on behalf of an issue can be critical to advancing a nonprofit’s mission. That is why nonprofits are encouraged to advocate. However, it is important to remember that issue oriented advocacy is very different from partisan electoral politics.

For more than 60 years, an important provision in the federal tax code, the Johnson Amendment, has protected 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organizations from being drawn into partisan politics, such as endorsing or opposing candidates for public office or raising money for political candidates. However, new legislation in Congress and a recent executive order seek to allow nonprofits to participate in partisan campaigning.

You might be surprised to learn that most nonprofits do not want to engage in partisan politics. They recognize the importance of political neutrality so they can sustain their services and continue as safe places where people can come together to solve community problems. Indeed, in a recent letter to Congress, 4,500 nonprofits around the country signed onto a community letter in support of nonpartisanship.

Nonprofits know how important it is to advocate, and it is expressly their nonpartisanship that makes their advocacy more powerful. Nonprofits promote solutions to problems, new ideas to enrich communities and the preservation of community assets. New Hampshire’s policymakers often rely on the nonpartisan expertise of nonprofits, recognizing their commitment to their mission, the value of their data collection and the personal stories of their stakeholders.

Keeping nonprofits free from taking part in partisan politics makes sense. The operation of our nonprofits could look very different if we are made susceptible to the pressures of partisanship. Do we want to see nonprofit budgets take on political campaign advertising? Do we want nonprofit employees to divert their time to work on political campaigns? These activities would cause harm by potentially politicizing the important work that nonprofits do to make our communities safer, healthier and more enjoyable to live in.

Let’s keep New Hampshire’s nonprofits integral to our way of life. To sustain the public’s confidence in and support of the nonprofit sector, we need to keep the Johnson Amendment in place. Advocacy? Yes. Partisanship? No.

Kathleen Reardon is CEO of the NH Center for Nonprofits, a statewide nonprofit association dedicated to advancing the impact and visibility of the nonprofit sector and supporting the growth of nonprofits to reach their mission.

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