Questions and answers about political activities

We have prepared answers to questions that will help charities understand and comply with the requirements regarding political activities. We plan to add more questions and answers to this list. If you have suggestions for questions, please let us know:

By email
consultation-policy-politique@cra-arc.gc.ca


By fax
Policy, Planning, and Legislation Division
613-948-1320

By mail
Policy, Planning, and Legislation Division
Charities Directorate
Canada Revenue Agency
Ottawa ON  K1A 0L5

We will review all suggestions for questions and answers. Although we will not send you a reply, we will add frequently asked questions to our online list.

Please focus your questions on the Income Tax Act and the requirements for charities regarding political activities. Although we encourage questions about scenarios regarding charities and political activities, the confidentiality provisions of the Act prevent us from responding to enquiries about specific registered charities.

If you need general information about charities or Charities Directorate publications, call our Client Service Section at 1-800-267-2384.

Reporting

Q.1

Our charity has made a gift to a registered charity of $8,000. We told the recipient charity that $3,000 of that gift was intended to support its political activities.

We have not received a report from the charity about how it used any of that money, or if it spent the money at all. How do we report the gift on our Form T3010, Registered Charity Information Return, and Form T1236, Qualified donees worksheet / Amounts provided to other organizations?

A.1

It is your charity, as the donor, that determines whether a gift or part of a gift to a qualified donee is a political activity, regardless of how the recipient uses the funds.

Report your gift of $8,000 as a gift to a qualified donee on forms T3010 and T1236. Identify $3,000 of the gift as a political activity on Form T3010 (including Schedule 7) and on Form T1236.

Representations to an elected representative or public official, and calls to action

Q.2

Our charity makes representations to elected representatives and public officials. Section 7.3.1 of Policy statement CPS-022, Political activities, says that releasing the text of a representation made by a charity can be a charitable activity if certain criteria are met. But, if our charity makes “an explicit call to political action in any part of this representation or in reference to it,” the activity will be a political activity.

What does “in reference to it” mean?

A.2

The phrase “in reference to it” means the text of the representation (that is, a copy or transcript) and the call to political action are linked or connected in some way, so that a reader is directed from one to the other. Some examples include:

  • placing a link to a call to political action next to the text of a representation on a webpage

  • positioning the text of a representation so that it is next to a call to political action on a webpage

  • issuing a press release that includes the text of a representation and that:

    • encourages people to call their member of Parliament

    • tells people how to contact the charity in order to join a call to political action

In these scenarios, releasing the text of the representation may be seen as a political activity.

Q.3

If a government asks a charity for advice and input on a particular policy, is the charity carrying on a political activity when it responds to the government?

A.3

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) would likely consider the charity’s response to be a representation to an elected representative or public official and a charitable activity rather than a political activity, as long as the charity’s advice or input on the policy follows these rules:

  • it is subordinate to its charitable purposes

  • it relates to an issue that is connected to its purposes

  • it is well-reasoned

  • it does not contain information that it knows or ought to know is false, inaccurate, or misleading

Q.4

Is a call to action a necessary part of political activity? For example, if someone raises issues with existing legislation but does not explicitly encourage the public to communicate with decision-makers about those issues, is this still a political activity?

A.4

An activity can be political even though it does not contain a call to action. If it explicitly tells the public that a law, policy, or decision of government should be retained, opposed, or changed, the activity is political.

Political activities vs. prohibited partisan activities

Q.5

Is mentioning the name of a minister in a press release considered a partisan political activity?

A.5

It depends on what the press release actually says. If the press release directly or indirectly opposes or supports any political party or candidate for public office, it is a partisan political activity.

A simple, factual statement in a press release, such as: “Minister Jane Smith announced a new government policy today,” is not considered a partisan political activity. However, statements made to retain, oppose, or change a law, policy, or decision of government, are political.

In contrast, any evaluation of the minister or his or her performance may indicate indirect support for, or opposition to, the minister’s political party and could be a partisan political activity. For example, the statement, “Minister Jane Smith has abdicated her responsibility to Canada’s citizens by introducing a new policy today,” could be considered a partisan political activity.

Q.6

Our charity has received $20,000 from a foreign donor with the instruction to spend all the money on our political activities. Our charity is not carrying out political activities this year, so we will not be using any part of the gift. Do we still have to report the gift on Form T3010 as funding from outside Canada to support our charity’s political activities?

A.6

Yes. Because the donor instructed your charity to use the gift for political activities, you must report the gift on Form T3010 as an amount received from outside Canada that was directed to be spent on political activities.

Q.7

I am an employee of a charity. If I attend a fundraising event for a political party or candidate, with the approval of the charity, and I pay for my ticket and make a donation with my personal funds, can I claim these costs against my general expense account with the charity for reimbursement?

A.7

No. Reimbursing any financial support given to a political party or candidate is indirect support for that political party by the charity, and therefore a partisan political activity. Depending on the facts of the case, this may also contravene election laws.

Q.8

Can political parties or candidates put a link on their websites to a charity’s website?

A.8

Yes, political parties or candidates can put a link on their websites to a charity’s website, as long as none of the charity’s resources are used to support a political party or candidate.

Q.9

What if a charity puts a link on its website to the website of a political party or candidate?

A.9

Linking to the website of a particular political party or candidate is typically considered a partisan political activity.

Q.10

Is supporting or opposing a government policy a political activity, even if it’s not a partisan political activity?

A.10

Usually, yes. Supporting or opposing a policy fits the description of a political activity in section 6.2 of Policy statement CPS-022.

Q.11

A government has started public consultations and a charity encourages the public to participate in the consultations. Is this a political activity?

A.11

If the charity only urges people to participate in the consultations, regardless of the charity’s views on the issue, the activity is not likely a political activity.

However, if the charity explicitly says in any of its materials that the intent of the activity is to incite an elected representative or public official to retain, oppose, or change the law, policy, or decision of any government, the activity is a political activity.

Q.12

Do the CRA’s guidelines on political activities apply in the following situations?

  1. Our charity communicates with the public about a recent change in the law.

  2. Our charity assigns one of its employees to work as part of a coalition of charitable and non-charitable organizations. The coalition conducts non-partisan political activities.

  3. An external user posts a partisan political statement in the Comments section of our charity’s website, blog, or social media site.

A.12

  1. If the communication simply informs the public about a recent change, the communication is not likely political. However, if the charity includes a call to action or makes it clear they believe the law should be retained, opposed, or changed, then the communication is likely political.

  2. A charity’s resources consist of anything it owns or controls, including the paid time of its employees and the unpaid time of its volunteers. If a charity’s resources are used for an activity, including work as part of a coalition, that fits the description of a political activity or a partisan political activity as outlined in Policy statement CPS-022, the CRA considers that the charity is carrying on a political activity or a partisan political activity.

  3. A charity’s resources include its website, blogs, or social media sites and any Comments section attached to those sites. While the CRA recognizes that charities cannot maintain constant control over every comment made by each visitor, it generally expects that charities will not invite or make partisan political statements. If external users make partisan political statements, the CRA expects the charity to remove, edit, or moderate any partisan political comments within a reasonable period of time.

Board members as candidates for public office

Q.13

Can a board member of a charity be a candidate in an election for public office?

A.13

Yes, a board member of a charity can run for public office. However, the board member and the charity must make sure that none of the charity’s resources are used for any of the candidate’s personal partisan political activities. For example, using the charity’s offices or facilities for campaign work or allowing candidates to speak at the charity’s public events is viewed as using resources for partisan political activities.

These are some of the things a charity should do to make sure that none of its resources are used for partisan political activities and that the charity does not support or appear to support the candidate:

  • not publicize in any of its materials that the board member is a candidate

  • not use its human resources (staff, board members or volunteers) for the candidate’s campaign

  • instruct all staff to not use the charity’s resources to support any candidate

  • record the measures and policies that have been adopted to make sure that no resources were used for partisan activities

General framework for conducting audits that could involve political activities

Q.14

Is the framework the CRA uses to conduct audits publicly available?

A.14

Yes, the general framework has been available on our website since February 2014. The Charities Program Update – 2014 included a section entitled Political activities compliance overview, which explained our general approach to political activities audits, how files are selected for audit, some of the CRA’s observations so far, and other related topics. For the most recent information about the political activities review, see the Charities Program Update – 2015.

When conducting audits, CRA auditors refer to guidance published on our website, such as Policy statement CPS-022.

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