Having smeared Ted Cruz’s 77-year-old father, a Gold Star hero’s family and crybabies, New York developer Donald J. Trump has zeroed in on yet another campaign opponent:
The Texas then-senator’s little-noticed 1954 amendment to a major income tax reform act took churches and other tax-exempt groups out of blatant political campaigning, and Trump vows to overturn that.
Telling pastors they’ve been “silenced,” Trump told a Florida gathering Thursday that what is now called the “Johnson Amendment” was meant to hush pulpit criticism and “we’re going to get your voice back.”
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Like almost everything Trump has said as this 14-month-long campaign winds down, the comment included only microscopic particles of truth.
For starters, Trump said it was passed by “Johnson in the 1970s,” when LBJ was retired to his Hill Country ranch. Johnson died in 1973.
And the amendment’s target was nonprofit foundations, including Dallas oil billionaire H.L. Hunt’s foundation and politicking through TV shows such as WBAP/Channel 5’s Facts Forum and later Life Line.
In a 1951 guest column in The Dallas Morning News, Hunt described Facts Forum as a “national educational organization devoted to the study of political science, soil and water conservation, and the art of living.”
A vast propaganda machine financed with tax-exempt dollars.
Then-U.S. Rep. Mike Monroney on H.L. Hunt’s Facts Forum
Others described it as bigoted, isolationist and a promoter of McCarthyism: U.S. Rep. Wayne Hays, D-Ohio, called it “propaganda … [fostering] the technique of smear.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Monroney, D-Okla., called it “a vast propaganda machine financed with tax-exempt dollars.”
In speeches, Trump describes the Johnson Amendment as a personal political checkmate by Johnson. Democratic primary opponent Dudley Daugherty of Dallas was promoted by Facts Forum and also by the Committee for Constitutional Government.
But at the time, the U.S. House had just wrapped up a two-year investigation of whether tax-exempt foundations were promoting left-wing politics.
This amendment seeks to [deny] tax-exempt status to not only those people who influence legislation but also to those who intervene in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate.
U.S. Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, July 2, 1954
New Jersey banker Norman Dodd told the committee: “It seems incredible that the trustees of typically American fortune-created foundations should … finance ideas and practices incompatible with the fundamental concepts of our Constitution.”
So when Johnson offered to amend the tax reform act to ensure no 501(c)3 tax-exempt charity could “participate in, or intervene in … any political campaign on behalf of any candidate,” Republicans accepted the idea unanimously.
News coverage focused on the idea that tax-free foundations and organizations would no longer campaign “against the government that granted their tax exemption.”
Johnson, always a worshiper at Disciples of Christ churches, was baptized at the First Christian Church of Johnson City.
According to former aides and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, he never meant to restrict any church.