With both state and federal elections looming, it is important that charities and their responsible persons ensure any advocacy or campaigning complies with ACNC guidelines and does not threaten the charity’s registration.
Charities are allowed to engage in advocacy or campaigning if these efforts:
- further their charitable purpose – what they are set up to achieve – and,
- are allowed under their governing document – for example, constitution or rules.
Any advocacy or campaigning charities conduct must not have a purpose to:
- promote or oppose a political party or a candidate for political office,
- engage in or promote activities that are unlawful, or
- engage in or promote activities that are contrary to public policy.
These three purposes are disqualifying political purposes. Any charities that participate in them risk losing their registration with the ACNC.
Since last July, registered charities that have reported political donations and electoral expenditure to the AEC have seen their ACNC Charity Register listing updated to include links to the AEC’s Transparency Register. What is important to note here is that charities that comply with ACNC rules on advocacy and campaigning may still need to meet the requirements of other regulators. The ACNC is not the only regulator in this space, so charities and their responsible persons must be aware of their responsibilities to all regulators whenever they undertake advocacy and campaigning – especially political campaigning.
To view more detail from the ACNC, click HERE
Note that during Senate Estimates in February, the ACNC Commissioner Dr Gary Johns was questioned by Labor senator Anthony Chisholm on what the rules of charitable advocacy actually were. Chisholm said that there was a slight difference in the wording around when charities can advocate between what was on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission’s website, and what was published in the most recent Commissioner’s Column. In his column Johns said charities can advocate or campaign if their rules allow it, while the advice on the ACNC website is that they can advocate or campaign if their rules don’t prevent it, which Senator Chisholm said was a ”more open and permissive frame”. Johns confirmed there had not been a change to what was stated on the website or the definition, his column just reflected “a different statement”.