By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Stop taxing free speech

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that a recent proposal for tax-exempt, endowment-supported newspapers, though flawed, might be intriguing — but only if Lyndon Johnson’s 55-year-old ban on political speech is repealed.

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  1. ron-newman

    (Repeating a point that I and others made earlier, but you may not have seen)Several excellent magazines are published by tax-exempt non-profits, such as Harper’s and Mother Jones. Do you think the current tax laws mute their political voice? If not, why would things be different for non-profit newspapers?

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Ron: And I say free Harper’s and Mother Jones, too. But there’s a big difference between a major metropolitan newspaper and a tiny little niche magazine. I suspect they get away with saying things that would get the NY Times in trouble if it had to labor under similar constraints.The point is, whether it works or not, why are we taxing anyone’s free speech?

  3. Peter Porcupine

    DK – if there is a religious prohibition, why was Clinton able to campaign in black churches? How was Fr. Phleger (sp?) able to speak about Hillary Clinton the way he did? And on and on…Or is this prohibition enforced only against ‘hatemonger’ consrvative? Not that the Nation of Islam would ever say anything hateful about Jews.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    PP: Given that I favor free speech for everyone, why are you quibbling? As I understand it, there have not been very many investigations. The threat is always there, though.

  5. ron-newman

    I’m not sure how I feel about changing the law, since it may impose a certain amount of discipline on charities to actually act in charitable ways. I do want to point out that the law does not prohibit 501c3 nonprofits from “influencing legislation” aka “lobbying”. It just says that this can’t be the nonprofit’s principal activity.

  6. ron-newman

    Also, there are other types of tax-exempt non-profits (501c4s) where this rule does not apply. The difference is that contributions to 501c4s are not tax-deductible. This is why there’s a 501c3 Sierra Club Foundation separate from the 501c4 Sierra Club, for instance. The ACLU Foundation / ACLU have a similar arrangement.

  7. cavard

    Dan, that was a great piece. I shared it with my editor & publisher at work 🙂

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