Canadian Federal Election - Canadian charities must avoid partisan political activity

September 07, 2008 | By: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Mark Blumberg
Topics: Canadian Charity Law, Political Activities and Canadian charities

Canadian registered charities need to scrupulously avoid involvement with partisan political activity.  In this brief note we cover CRA policy statement CPS-022 on political activity by charities and CRA’s Advisory on Partisan Political Activities. It is really important for Canadian charities to understand the policy statement and advisory for two reasons: 1) failure to do so can result in a charity losing its charitable status; and 2) many charities can in fact do more allowable political activities than they currently do but they misunderstand CRA’s views on this important topic and they think that CRA disapproves of all “political” activity, which is clearly not the case. Full Article in PDF

Full Article in PDF

The Income Tax Act (the “Act”) restricts Canadian registered charities in the type and quantity of political activity.  The Charities Directorate of the Canada Revenue Agency in its policy statement entitled Political Activities CPS - 022 has set out CRA’s position on political activities by registered charities. Under the Act, a registered charity can be involved in non-partisan political activities as long as it devotes substantially all (generally 90% or more) of its resources to charitable activities. Any political activity has to help accomplish the charity’s purposes and remain incidental (generally 10% or less) in scope.  In CPS-022 what a layman would describe as ‘political activities’ could be either prohibited activities, allowable political activities or in fact charitable activities.

A registered charity CANNOT be involved in PARTISAN political activities.  Charities should always keep this in mind.  It is especially important to remember this during an election because the likelihood that a volunteer officer or paid staff person or a board member may step outside this requirement is greater. A political activity is considered partisan if it involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, a political party or candidate for public office.  CRA has placed an Advisory on partisan political activities at http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/chrts/plcy/dvsry-eng.html I have reproduced the advisory below and if you don’t have the time to read CPS-022 then at least look at the advisory.


The restriction on partisan political activities does not apply to non-profits that are NOT registered charities from either partisan or non-partisan political activities. After all, the federal incorporated non-profit political parties are certainly partisan, but clearly not registered charities. 

Here I provide a quick 15 point summary of CPS-022 (Political Activities):

1) Canadian charities have experience, expertise and ideas that they should communicate to government so that government can develop better public policy and deliver better programs. Some types of political activity are very beneficial and charities are encouraged within certain limits to be involved with certain political activities.

2) “In order to serve the public, the information charities give on public policy issues should be presented in an informative, accurate, and well-reasoned way to enable society to decide for itself what position to take.” [forget absolute freedom of speech to say any ridiculous, offensive, racist, anti-semitic thing - thankfully we don’t have it for individuals in Canada and certainly not for charities in Canada.  Furthermore, “well-reasoned” does not mean vetted by the “elites” but rather not false, inaccurate, or misleading]

3) The political activities that the charity carries out must be “connected and subordinate” to the charity’s purposes.

4) “A charity wishing to carry out activities that go beyond the limits permitted by the Act may establish a separate and distinct organization that will not be a registered charity and therefore not able to issue charitable receipts. No limitations are placed on the political activities of such a body; it has complete freedom within the law to support any cause it chooses. But the charity cannot fund that separate organization or make resources available to it for any otherwise impermissible political activity.”

5) For the purposes of CPS - 022, a charity’s activities can be divided into three separate types:

    prohibited activities (partisan or illegal (ie. cash in brown bag for elected official) and therefore prohibited)
    political activities (ok, but generally less than 10% of resources can be spent on this, with a little more for small charities)
    charitable activities (the more the merrier)


6) Just because a charity and a political party have the same position on a matter does not mean that the charity has to be quiet with respect to the issue.  “However, a charity in this situation must not directly or indirectly support the political party or candidate for public office. This means that a charity may make the public aware of its position on an issue provided:
it does not explicitly connect its views to any political party or candidate for public office;
the issue is connected to its purposes;
its views are based on a well-reasoned position;
public awareness campaigns do not become the charity’s primary activity.”

7) “... a charity may provide information to its supporters or the public on how all the Members of Parliament or the legislature of a province, territory or municipal council voted on an issue connected with the charity’s purpose. However, a charity must not single out the voting pattern on an issue of any one elected representative or political party.”

8) CRA is quite generous in CPS-022 in considering certain matters “charitable activities” and not “political activities”.  Lots of examples are given and many matters for purposes of political expenditures are considered by CRA to fall within the “charitable activities” of the charity as either “education” or “public awareness” depending on how they are conducted.

9) According to CRA they presume an activity is “political” if a charity:

    explicitly communicates a call to political action (i.e., encourages the public to contact an elected representative or public official and urges them to retain, oppose, or change the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country);
    explicitly communicates to the public that the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country should be retained (if the retention of the law, policy or decision is being reconsidered by a government), opposed, or changed; or
    explicitly indicates in its materials (whether internal or external) that the intention of the activity is to incite, or organize to put pressure on, an elected representative or public official to retain, oppose, or change the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country.

10) The Income Tax Act’s limits the amount of legal and non-partisan political activities in that “the Act requires that substantially all of its resources must be devoted to charitable activities.”  CRA takes the view when determining “substantially all” that the charity not only look to the charity’s financial assets but also staff, volunteers, directors, and its premises and equipment.  CRA consider “substantially all” in this case to mean 90% or more. However, with smaller charities they will “exercise our discretion and not revoke the registration of smaller charities for the excessive use of their resources on political activities as long as they meet the following administrative guidelines: Registered charities with less than $50,000 annual income in the previous year can devote up to 20% of their resources to political activities in the current year.  Registered charities whose annual income in the previous year was between $50,000 and $100,000 can devote up to 15% of their resources to political activities in the current year. Registered charities whose annual income in the previous year was between $100,000 and $200,000 can devote up to 12% of their resources to political activities in the current year.”

11) In some cases, CRA may allow a charity to average out the political activities over the preceding two years to take into account “infrequent, short-term, one-of-a-kind political activities in excess of this amount ...”

12) Organizations need to keep records on political expenditures and if an activity is partly charitable and partly political, a reasonable allocation can be made between the two.

13) In terms of the disbursement quota, political activities, just like fundraising expenses and administration costs, are not considered charitable expenses.  Some charities may run into disbursement quota problems if they cumulatively have too much fundraising, administration, and political expenses and not enough charitable activity expenses.

14) It is important that charities when filing their T3010 Charity Information Return accurately reflect their political activities.  Remember that charities must file the T3010 within six (6) months of their fiscal year end.  The vast majority of chariites that lose their charitable registration it is the result of non-filing of their T3010.

15) Examples of prohibited, allowable political, and charitable activities, are provided along with explanations of each in CPS-022.


Also, remember that if you are undertaking political activities that the registration of lobbyists (federally, provincially or otherwise) is a separate issue to the Act and CRA constraints. You may wish to review the Federal or provincial lobbyist registration acts to check whether you and your organization are compliant.
http://www.globalphilanthropy.ca/images/uploads/Lobbying_and_Canadian_Charities_To_register_or_not_to_register.pdf
Lobbying and Canadian Non-Profits and Charities: To register or not to register

Lots of food for thought.  It is really important to understand the distinctions in CPS-022 for two reasons: 1) failure to do so can result in a charity losing its charitable status; and 2) many charities can in fact do more allowable political activities than they currently do but they misunderstand CRA’s views on this important topic and they think that CRA disapproves of all “political” activity which is clearly not the case.

 

GlobalPhilanthropy.ca was created by Mark Blumberg, a lawyer at Blumberg Segal LLP in Toronto, Ontario.  If you require legal advice with respect to non-profit organizations or charities in Canada he can be contacted at or at 416-361-1982 x. 237. To find out more about legal services that Blumbergs provides to Canadian charities and non-profits please visit the Blumbergs’ Non-Profit and Charities page at http://www.blumbergs.ca/non_profit.php or http://www.globalphilanthropy.ca

 

CRA Advisory on Partisan Political Activities

Advisory on partisan political activities The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is once again issuing an advisory to remind registered charities that there are limitations on certain types of political activities. This advisory should be read in conjunction with our more detailed policy statement, Political Activities, CPS-022.

During election campaigns, the CRA steps up monitoring of activities of registered charities and will take appropriate measures if a registered charity undertakes partisan political activities. Partisan political activities are those that involve direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office. Registered charities are prohibited from partisan political activity, because supporting or opposing a political party or candidate for public office is not a charitable purpose at law. There are two aspects to the prohibition: the first restricts the involvement of charities with political parties; the second restricts the involvement of charities through the support or opposition to a candidate for public office. Charities engaging in partisan political activities risk being deregistered.

What constitutes partisan political activity has not changed in any way over the years, as the limitation on this type of activity is contained in the Income Tax Act at subsections 149.1(6.1) and (6.2).

149.1
(6.1) Charitable purposes
For the purposes of the definition “charitable foundation” in subsection (1), where a corporation or trust devotes substantially all of its resources to charitable purposes and

(a) it devotes part of its resources to political activities,
(b) those political activities are ancillary and incidental to its charitable purposes, and
(c) those political activities do not include the direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office,

the corporation or trust shall be considered to be constituted and operated for charitable purposes to the extent of that part of its resources so devoted.

(6.2) Charitable activities
For the purposes of the definition “charitable organization” in subsection (1), where an organization devotes substantially all of its resources to charitable activities carried on by it and

(a) it devotes part of its resources to political activities,
(b) those political activities are ancillary and incidental to its charitable activities, and
(c) those political activities do not include the direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office,

the organization shall be considered to be devoting that part of its resources to charitable activities carried on by it.

A registered charity is prohibited from directly or indirectly supporting or opposing a candidate for public office as well as a political party. In deciding whether a charity is engaged in prohibited activity, we generally consider whether the activity can reasonably be construed as intending to influence the outcome of the election. This may include but is not limited to situations where a registered charity:

Do you require legal advice with respect to Canadian or Ontario non-profits or charities?

Contact

Charity Lawyer Mark Blumberg

Mark Blumberg is a partner at the law firm of Blumberg Segal LLP in Toronto and works almost exclusively in the areas of non-profit and charity law.

mark@blumbergs.ca
416.361.1982
Download vCard

Connect

Locate

Blumberg Segal LLP
Barristers & Solicitors
#1202 - 390 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario
M5H 2Y2 Canada

Charity Law List

Join Blumbergs' non-profit and charities newsletter
View recent issue: June 2014