Much has been written about the recent court case and the subsequent proposed Income Tax Act amendments concerning political activities of registered charities. Organizations that are not registered charities but just non-profit organizations, may have not given the issue much thought as all, except perhaps, pause to consider if the perceived relaxation of political activities for charities might open the door for charitable registration to non-profit organizations that would not have qualified before. The answer to this may be a bit murky right now. However, what is clear is that any organization, whether it is a charity or not, needs to pay attention to and keep up with lobbying legislation in case the organization needs to do something about those rules.
For example The Lobbyists Act was amended this year in Alberta and has cast a wider net than before. It used to be that only those in an organization who tracked lobbying for at least 100 hours annually had to worry about the reporting requirements. However since the 2018-06-11 amendments (Lobbyists Act, SA 2007, c L-20.5, <http://canlii.ca/t/536vk> retrieved on 2018-10-22) 50 hours annually is now the number, similar to some other jurisdictions. Organization lobbyist now means…. an employee, officer or director of an organization who receives a payment for the performance of his or her functions, …… who lobbies or whose duty is to lobby on behalf of the organization at least 50 hours annually, or whose lobbying or duty to lobby on behalf of the organization together with the lobbying or the duty to lobby of other persons in the organization amounts to at least 50 hours annually. Furthermore time spent lobbying includes time spent preparing for communication and communicating with a public office holder. Public office holder is defined to include the usual a variety of elected and appointed officials and staff.
Submissions made in public record proceedings and a few other situations are not considered lobbying. However the changes to the Act included a broader definition of lobbying to include communicating with a public office holder, directly or through grassroots communication, in an attempt to influence. Grassroots communication means appeals to members of the public through the mass media or by direct communication that seek to persuade members of the public to communicate directly with a public office holder in an attempt to place pressure on the public office holder to endorse a particular opinion, but does not include communication between an organization and its members, officers or employees or between a person or partnership and its shareholders, partners, officers or employees. The clarification surrounding grassroots communication is new in Alberta and the exclusion for internal organizational communication is welcome.
The Alberta Lobbyists Act applies to not-for-profit organizations, but some non-for-profit entities are exempt. A non‑profit organization, association, society, coalition or interest group is not required to comply with the Act unless it is constituted to serve management, union or professional interests nor has a majority of members that are profit‑seeking enterprises or representatives of profit‑seeking enterprises. The key here is actually knowing not only the criteria for membership in an organization but doing an analysis of the names of the persons and organizations on the member list. It is not unusual for organizations in Alberta to grant or bestow membership of some description to many stakeholders, including those who have profit as their primary motives.
For a quick check up of any organization concerned with the Alberta changes, ask the following:
- Who are the members? Note that the board of directors may be different than members.
- Who spent time preparing for communication with a public office holder? Check the hours.
- Who spent time communicating with a public office holder? Check the hours.
- Add up all of the hours of those who received remuneration from the organization.
If the conclusion is that a majority of members are profit‑seeking enterprises or representatives of profit‑seeking enterprises and the hours of those who were checked received remuneration from the organization add up to more than 50 then there is a duty to file .
If you are an organization lobbyist there is a duty to file a return in the prescribed form within 2 months after the day on which an individual in that organization becomes an organization lobbyist and within 30 days after the expiration of each 6-month period after the date of filing the previous return. Even though an organization lobbyist named in the return may communicate with one or more public office holders on one or more occasions, only one return is required..
Lobbyist registries show many non-profit organizations are registered. Look at the regime in the jurisdiction where you are and where you may be lobbying. Government Relations Institute of Canada has a toolkit with links to the relevant regulatory bodies across Canada. Check it out and decide if you are an organization lobbyist where you operate and therefore should file too.