An unusually brazen violation of the Johnson Amendment starring the second-highest official in the land. If Harris had limited her comments below to encouraging viewers to vote without specifying whom they should vote for, the churches airing the video would be within the law. Tax-exempt nonprofits are permitted to engage in “activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives,” according to the IRS — so long as those activities are conducted in a non-partisan way.
When they aren’t, the law is clear: “[V]oter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.” Churches that air this video should lose their exempt status over it.
They won’t, but they should.
“This is a very bad idea,” David French said of the clip. “The blatant mixing of religion and politics not only sullies religion, it escalates polarization into increasing religious conflict.” Right, but Democrats would say that that horse has already left the barn thanks to the GOP. In fact, white evangelicals as a group are now so synonymous with the Republican Party that support for Trump is a factor in predicting whether someone is likely to start identifying as “evangelical” or not.
Not surprisingly, then, less than two weeks after he was sworn in Trump told an audience at the National Prayer Breakfast that “I will get rid of, and totally destroy, the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.” He didn’t keep that promise but having the leader of the party on the record as supporting campaigning in church may have encouraged Dems in deciding whether to have Harris do this video message. When called on it, they’re going to try to “tu quoque” their way out of it.
There’s a dirty little secret about the Johnson Amendment, though. It’s assumed that white evangelical churches are more likely to violate it because of their close affiliation with the GOP but a Pew survey from 2016 contradicted that. Black Protestants were far more likely to hear partisan electoral messages in church than white evangelicals were:
Given those numbers, it’s reeeeally stupid of Dems to want to mainstream the practice of campaigning in church. There’s far more room for growth in that area on the right than on the left, it appears. The black churches airing Harris’s message will doubtless go unpunished by the IRS lest the agency be accused of racism in failing to respect the African-American tradition of faith-driven political activism. But that’s fine from the Republican point of view. They don’t want the Johnson Amendment enforced, they want it discredited and ultimately repealed. Harris, McAuliffe, and the churches involved in this stunt have made that argument easier for them.
So, knowing that, why would they move forward with it? Simple: They’re desperate. Numerous polls have showed Biden’s job approval slipping with black voters over the past two months. African-Americans were nearly 20 percent of the electorate in Virginia last fall. If they don’t show up for McAuliffe next month, he’s cooked. And if McAuliffe is cooked, the entire Democratic program may be cooked.
“I’m hopeful that everyone will come to their senses by the end of the month,” said Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas). “If things don’t go well [in Virginia], there’s going to be a lot of different reckonings here.”
If McAuliffe doesn’t pull out a win, some pessimistic Democrats privately predicted a “collapse” on Capitol Hill, where party leaders are already struggling to unite sparring progressives and centrists around a roughly $2 trillion social infrastructure package. Meanwhile, the Senate-passed $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill is sitting on the shelf because the votes aren’t there in the House, much to Virginia Democrats’ irritation…
“Terry losing is catastrophic for the agenda,” said one longtime Democratic aide, summing up the views of the party’s most vulnerable members on condition of anonymity.
On top of Democratic paralysis in Washington, Biden’s declining fortunes, and rising anxiety about inflation, McAuliffe also has to worry about the fact that Virginians are simply burned out on elections. They vote in state races in odd-numbered years and in federal races in even-numbered ones, which means they’re always being inundated with campaigning and partisan bickering. That’s not a problem for Republicans there, who are itching to flex their muscle and send a message to Biden amid total Democratic control of the federal government. But it’s a major problem for Dems, who already accomplished their core mission of defeating Trump last year and have tuned out. Now, 12 months later, they somehow need to get excited again to elect [cringe] Terry McAuliffe. No wonder the party is pulling out the stops to try to boost him, up to and including torching the Johnson Amendment.
I’ll leave you with this, the entire McAuliffe campaign message in a nutshell.