COLUMBUS, Ohio — 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. The amendment 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.
Anglican priest Ric Bowser, who worships in suburban Columbus, is chairing Mandel’s faith outreach team, which also includes seven regional deputy chairs, all Christian.
“I know no other statewide leader that has been so outspoken on defending the First 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.
In a digital and cable video ad released last week, Cleveland businessman Mike Gibbons pledged to work hard with the Republican president to pass a conservative agenda. He claimed “liberals and knuckleheads” on TV are using “fake news” to try to destroy the president.
A spokesman for Gibbons dismissed Mandel’s efforts.
“He’s just trying to hitch himself to something positive the President has done,” spokesman Chris Schrimpf said in a statement.
The winner of the Republican primary will 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’s announcement of the faith outreach team comes after he had faced pushback over a statement on Twitter accusing the Anti-Defamation League of being “a partisan witchhunt group.” 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.
Mandel’s faith outreach effort appears unrelated to that controversy. Mandel met with more than 100 pastors around Ohio over the course of the year in setting up the outreach team.
This story has been corrected to show the outreach team was announced, not created, after pushback over a Twitter post.