“In Tax Debate, Gift to Religious Right Could Be Bargaining Chip”

NYT:

Among the changes in the tax bill that passed the House this month is a provision to roll back the 1954 ban, a move that is championed by the religious right, but opposed by thousands of religious and nonprofit leaders, who warn that it could blur the line between charity and politics.

The change could turn churches into a well-funded political force, with donors diverting as much as $1.7 billion each year from traditional political committees to churches and other nonprofit groups that could legally engage in partisan politics for the first time, according to an estimate by the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

The Senate will begin voting as early as Wednesday on its own version of the sweeping tax rewrite, which the leaves the ban untouched, and differs in other key ways from the House version. The Senate bill has yet to garner enough support from Republicans to pass along party lines, with Republican senators raising concerns about the bill’s cost and approach, including how small businesses are treated and the elimination of the Affordable Care Act requirement that most Americans have health insurance or pay a penalty….

Critics warn that the change could dramatically increase untraceable political spending and lead to the creation of “sham churches” to take advantage of the new avenue for political spending, which — unlike donations to candidates, “super PACs” and party committees — would allow donors to deduct contributions.

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