Politics dressed up as charity
There’s always next year. Anyone who reads this column regularly will know I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about policy think-tanks: not that they do policy research, but that they are registered charities, and that they can issue tax receipts to their funders for any donations they get.
It has particularly bothered me that, while environmental and free-speech charities were being audited for their political activities — audits that cost those charities precious time and resources — the same rules haven’t seemed to apply to all charities.
The think-tanks do research on issues that meet their particular small-p political agendas, then release it publicly — hoping, of course, to sway the public and politicians. But direct political activity? No — they usually claim they are doing no political activity whatsoever.
Here’s how the Charities Directorate of the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) spells out the rules on political activity: “A registered charity may pursue political activities only if the activities are non-partisan, related to its charitable purposes, and limited in extent. A political activity is any activity that explicitly communicates to the public that a law, policy or decision of any level of government inside or outside Canada should be retained, opposed, or changed.”
Any charity that does undertake political activities has to reveal that in its charitable filings with the CRA.
The question the CRA poses is direct: “Did the charity carry on any political activities during the fiscal period, including making gifts to qualified donees that were intended for political activities?”
And that brings me to the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), an Atlantic think-tank. AIMS lists its roles as “Delivery of educational programs, lectures and conferences. Preparation and distribution of public policy research to improve understanding of policy issues. Promotion and encouragement of public debate and discourse.”
But the steadfast answer from AIMS, for years, about whether it has been involved in political activities? No. That’s no, like “none.”
So imagine my surprise this weekend to get an email from AIMS — it doesn’t appear to be “improving understanding.” No, it’s political action. “Can you please take five minutes and: 1. Sign the petition to Premiers Dwight Ball, Brian Gallant, Wade MacLauchlan, and Stephen McNeil (and to all Leaders of the Opposition) requesting our governments rein in spending and cut the public jobs we cannot afford. 2. Share SpendingProblem.ca on Facebook and Twitter. 3. Forward this email to five of your friends who support free market, small-government solutions for Atlantic Canadian prosperity. Sincerely, Marco Navarro-Génie President of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS)”
I look forward to AIMS and its disclosure of its political activities in next year’s filing. Of course, I’d look forward to it even more if the charity had to disclose the details behind its answer of “Yes” to the confidential question, “Did the charity receive any donations or gifts of any kind valued at $10,000 or more from any donor that was not resident in Canada and was not any of the following: a Canadian citizen, nor employed in Canada, nor carrying on a business in Canada, nor a person having disposed of taxable Canadian property?”
It’s nice to know who is using a tax break to do what, and to whom. And who is paying for it.