More than 200 foundation representatives and nonprofit leaders attended the 2018 ACR Summit for Leaders on March 13, our annual policy program held as part of United Philanthropy Forum’s Foundations on the Hill. Coming on the heels of the first comprehensive tax reform legislation in over three decades, attendees were anxious to hear from leaders in philanthropy, policy experts, and congressional staff about what faces the sector moving ahead.

In the opening panel, congressional and administration staffers offered their unique perspectives on the lead-up to tax reform last year as well as highlighted some of the concerns they’ve heard since. This off-the-record panel is always a highlight of the Summit as it provides an opportunity to hear from and ask questions of those privy to the inner-workings of Washington.

The second panel featured a discussion about the Johnson Amendment, legislation that prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations from intervening on behalf of or in opposition to political candidates or campaigns. While the Johnson Amendment was ultimately preserved in tax reform, the debate over repeal has divided many, even within the nonprofit sector. Those who support preserving the Johnson Amendment argue it appropriately keeps partisan politics and spending out of the charitable sector.

“From the beginning of the tax code and the exemption for a charitable sector, there was always this tension between partisanship and charity – that those two things just don’t go together,” said Amanda Tyler, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

Arguing the other side of the debate was Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, who contended that the Johnson Amendment stifles free speech, which was the intent of the amendment.

“The reason there is a speech restriction on you as nonprofits is not because there is an overarching tax policy interest…it’s because you share the same tax status as two organizations that Senator [Lyndon B. Johnson] wanted to silence,” said Holcomb.

The final panel of the Summit built on the insider perspectives shared during the congressional staff panel. Practitioners and policy influencers reflected on the 2017 tax bill and offered their thoughts as to what we might see in the sector as the law is applied.

“I think the focus to [broaden the base and lower tax rates] left the charitable sector wanting in many respects in what they got out of the bill,” said Wes Coulam, a member of the Washington Council Ernst & Young practice.

“As a result of the bill, there will be fewer donors to charity and the donors who will be able to give will be richer,” said Alex Reid, partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.

Despite the law’s passage, the consensus on the panel was that there is still much more work to do, which means more opportunities for the sector.

“This is round one of dealing with a lot of complex tax issues. I don’t view this as the debate being over,” said Harold Hancock, partner at McGuireWoods. “I view this more as the opening of a long discussion that will be happening over the next couple of years.”

See a few Twitter updates from the #ACRSummit below: