Emil Ford Lawyers

DOs and DON'Ts of having a political purpose for your charity

 

Following on from the article about the charitable purpose of not-for-profits, we take this opportunity to remind charities what advocacy and campaigning they can and cannot do when it comes to politics.

DO advance public debate about issues in connection with your charitable purpose.

Charity A has a charitable purpose of promoting or protecting human rights. It organises a round table discussion to consider the plight of refugees and how to better settle them in Australia. Charity A invites local members of Parliament from different parties who discuss their party’s plans for refugees.

Charity A is encouraging public debate by organising the discussion. The discussion is about an issue which is in connection with its charitable purpose. This is okay.

DO lobby and advocate for changes to the law in connection with your charitable purpose.

Charity B has a charitable purpose of advancing social or public welfare. Charity B has put together a report outlining how sparse affordable housing is in metropolitan Australia. It has also put together a list of suggested amendments to taxation legislation that it believes would increase the availability of affordable housing. It presents these to the Treasurer for consideration.

Charity B is advocating for a change of law. Increasing the availability of affordable housing is connected to its charitable purpose of advancing social or public welfare. This is OK.

DO promote or oppose a policy or practice where this furthers your charitable cause.

Charity C has a charitable purpose of preventing or relieving the suffering of animals. The government has recently announced a policy that will slash the funding previously available to animal shelters by half. Charity C opposes this policy and organises for a series of advertisements to be shown on a local television station criticising this policy decision. 

Charity C is opposing a policy decision to strip funding. Its opposition to this decision is directly related to its charitable cause. As long as the promotion does not tell voters that they should not vote for the political party or candidate that made the decision to strip funding, it is okay.

DON’T promote any activity that is unlawful or contrary to public policy.

Charity D has a charitable purpose of advancing health, and is unhappy with the current government’s stance on healthcare. It organises demonstrations at Parliament House and encourages its members and supporters to engage in “whatever action is necessary to get our point across.” The demonstrations become violent and police and bystanders are injured.

Charity D cannot engage or promote activities that are unlawful or contrary to public policy. This can disqualify an organisation from being a registered charity.

DON’T tell your charity members who to vote for.

Charity E has a charitable purpose of relieving the suffering of those with cancer. Mr Smith is running in the next election and promises to request increased funding for cancer research if elected. Charity E hosts a fundraiser for Mr Smith’s campaign. At the fundraising event, it endorses Mr Smith and tells its members and supporters to “do the right thing and vote for Mr Smith.”

While Charity E can directly promote its purpose or the interests of its beneficiaries to elected representatives, it cannot promote a political candidate for office. This can disqualify an organisation from being a registered charity.

DON’T oppose a political party for office.

Charity F has a charitable purpose of advancing the natural environment. A local newspaper has released an article which claims that Political Party Z, if elected, plans to increase oil drilling near the Great Barrier Reef. The following day, Charity F sends out a bulk email to the supporters on its mailing list telling them that because of the article, “you should not vote for Political Party Z next week!”

Although Charity F can critique political parties and their policies, it cannot oppose a particular political party for office. This can disqualify an organisation from being a registered charity.

It is so important that charities stick to their charitable purpose. If you have any questions about how do to this, please contact or .

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