COLUMBUS — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel announced Tuesday the creation of a faith outreach team whose first goal is the repeal of a federal law prohibiting religious organizations and other charitable groups from backing political candidates.
Mandel, Ohio’s state treasurer, said the 1954 Johnson Amendment is “overreaching.”
With the outreach effort, he joins President Donald Trump and some congressional Republicans interested in easing the restrictions created by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson’s amendment. It prohibits nonprofits with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, including churches, universities and many foundations, from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
Opponents contend the law restricts freedom of religion and speech. Defenders say it prevents tax breaks on political spending by organizations shielded from certain reporting requirements.
Ric Bowser, an Anglican priest who worships in suburban Columbus, is chairing Mandel’s faith outreach team. It also includes seven regional deputy chairs, all Christian.
“I know no other statewide leader that has been so outspoken on defending the 1st Amendment from the incursion of government,” Bowser said. “Our goal is to unite social and constitutional conservatives across the state to rally around Josh.”
Mandel’s rival for the 2018 Republican nomination also has sought to politically align with Trump, also a Republican.
In a digital and cable video ad released last week, Cleveland businessman Mike Gibbons pledged to work hard with the president to pass a conservative agenda. He claimed “liberals and knuckleheads” on CNN are using “fake news” to try to destroy the president.
The winner of the Republican primary would take on incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown next fall.
Mandel lost to Brown in 2012 in one of the nation’s most expensive and most closely watched Senate campaigns. Brown is seen as one of the Senate’s most liberal members and potentially vulnerable to ouster by the GOP next year.
Mandel created the faith outreach team after facing pushback last month for accusing the Anti-Defamation League of being “a partisan witchhunt group” on Twitter. The league had released a report identifying certain Americans as part of the “alt-right” and “alt-lite” movements.
Mandel is Jewish, and the ADL was founded to fight anti-Semitism.