What are some examples of prohibited political activities by Canadian charities?

January 15, 2012 | By: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Mark Blumberg
Topics: What's New from the Charities Directorate of CRA

Here are some examples of prohibited political activities.  Charities are prohibited from being involved in prohibited political activities.

Here is an excerpt from CRA Guidance on Political Activities - CPS-022


“In the following hypothetical examples, the charity involved is called Healthy Retirement and was formed to promote the health of seniors in Canada. It has received a lot of media attention on its recently released, well-reasoned position on the hazards for seniors of using marked crosswalks. It concludes from its findings that a senior is four times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident with a car at a marked crosswalk than at an intersection with a stop sign or a light.

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14.2 Prohibited activities

The following scenarios outline prohibited political activities.

14.2.1 Scenario 1 — Supporting an election candidate in the charity’s newsletter
Healthy Retirement sends a newsletter to all its members that contains an editorial from the managing director of the charity conveying his views on the main issues it is currently facing. Just before an election, the director uses the column to give his personal support to the re-election of a candidate who happens to endorse a policy that the charity also supports. The director uses his personal funds to pay for that edition of the newsletter. In this case, the charity is engaging in a prohibited partisan political activity because although the director paid for that edition of the newsletter, it is an official publication of the charity and is being used to promote a candidate for an election.

14.2.2 Scenario 2 — Distributing leaflets highlighting lack of government support for charity goals
Healthy Retirement decides to distribute leaflets to members of the public during a federal election campaign. The leaflets highlight its research findings that drivers do not respect the pedestrian right-of-way at marked crosswalks. It also states that a private members bill that proposed to increase the penalties imposed on drivers failing to give the right-of-way to pedestrians at marked crosswalks did not become law because government-side Members of Parliament voted against it. In this case, the distribution of the leaflets is a prohibited partisan political activity because it could mobilize public opinion against the current government for failing to enact the private members bill.
Whatever the issue, a charity is not permitted to directly or indirectly support or oppose any political party or candidate for public office, at any level of government.
Had the charity merely published a leaflet that showed how all the Members of Parliament voted on the private members bill, we would not have viewed this to be a partisan political activity.

14.2.3 Scenario 3 — Preparing dinner for campaign organizers of a political party
During a provincial election campaign, Healthy Retirement invites, to one of its monthly “heart smart” dinners, all those involved in organizing the campaign for a political party that promotes policies targeted at increasing health spending on respite care for seniors. The campaign team is treated to a delicious three-course meal that is low in fat and salt, and they receive information about the charity’s programs. This is a prohibited partisan political activity because the charity is providing direct support, by way of a free meal, to campaign organizers of a political party.

14.2.4 Scenario 4 — Inviting competing election candidates to speak at separate events
Healthy Retirement invites a candidate in a municipal election, who is in favour of increasing the money available to deliver hot meals to seniors in poor health, to talk about a particular issue on the candidate’s electoral platform that is consistent with the charity’s goals at its well-attended annual fundraising dinner. At a later date, it invites the other candidate in the election to speak at its poorly attended annual general meeting. The charity does not endorse either candidate at either meeting and no political fundraising occurs. Nevertheless, as the charity is not giving an equal opportunity for candidates seeking the same office to speak, it is possible to infer that the charity is indirectly supporting a particular candidate for public office and is therefore engaged in a prohibited partisan political activity. To avoid this assumption, a charity must ensure that in such circumstances, they invite all the candidates in an election to speak at the same time. Furthermore, the charity must give the candidates an equal amount of time to speak on their general platform.”

Here is a link to CRA Guidance on Political Activities - CPS-022 http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/chrts/plcy/cps/cps-022-eng.html

As well here is a copy in PDF of the CRA Policy Statement on Political Activities by Canadian Charities CPS-022 - September 2, 2003 so that you can download it easily to your computer.

 

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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.

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