If a charity registers as a lobbyist, will they lose either their charitable status or charitable tax exemption?
Under the Charities Act 2009, charitable status may be granted to certain organisations. Section 2 of that Act defines a charitable organisation, and specifically excludes from charitable status the following types of body (among others): a political party, a body that promotes a political party or candidate, and a body that promotes a political cause, unless the promotion of that cause relates directly to the advancement of the charitable purposes of the body.
Organisations that meet certain conditions under the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 may qualify for a charitable tax exemption. This is assessed separate and apart from charitable status.
It is a matter for the Charities Regulatory Authority and/or the Revenue Commissioners to determine whether the actions of a body meet the requirements for charitable status or to avail of tax exemptions.
Within this framework, it is important to note that charities are allowed to lobby in support of their primary charitable objectives. Indeed, many charitable organisations may lobby to seek to influence a program, a funding decision, or a policy position of the Government.
There is no barrier to charities lobbying as long as the lobbying activity adheres to the provisions of the Charities Act, namely, that it fits within the organisation's primary objectives. An organisation does not risk its charitable status simply by registering as a lobbyist. They must, however, consider whether the specific lobbying activity they are proposing to undertake is acceptable. Charities may have to satisfy Revenue and/or the Charities Regulatory Authority that their lobbying activity is in keeping with their primary objectives. If in doubt as to whether a lobbying activity is appropriate, the organisation is encouraged to seek guidance from Revenue or the Charities Regulatory Authority.
Nothing in the Regulation of Lobbying Act changes the requirements of the Charities Act or the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997.
Under the Regulation of Lobbying Act, a person with more than ten employees, or a representative or advocacy body with at least one employee, that is communicating with a Designated Public Official about a relevant matter, must register and submit returns of lobbying activity. There is no exemption to this requirement for charities. If a charitable organisation meeting the definition in the Act is communicating with a Designated Public Official about a relevant matter, then that charitable organisation must register as a lobbyist.