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With the 2022 federal election to be held on Saturday 21 May, ACNC Commissioner the Hon Dr Gary Johns is urging charities to be aware of their obligations regarding political advocacy and campaigning.

“While advocacy and campaigning are important to the work that many of Australia’s registered charities undertake, and are legitimate and effective ways of furthering a charitable purpose, it is important to note there are lines that should not be crossed,” Dr Johns said.

“We have guidance to help charities understand their obligations. However, we encourage charities to read the guidance in full to ensure they do not jeopardise 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 are disqualifying political purposes, and any charities that participate in them risk losing their ACNC registration.

Dr Johns said charities also need to be aware of obligations they may have to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). “Since the last federal election, the obligations charities have to the AEC have changed.”

Charities that spend money while campaigning or advocating on electoral matters – communicating on issues with the dominant purpose of influencing how people might vote at the next election – may incur electoral expenditure.

Depending on the level of electoral expenditure an organisation incurs, it will either:

  • be classed as a third party and need to comply with certain obligations, including submitting an annual return to the AEC, or
  • be classed as a significant third party and have to comply with more stringent obligations, including a formal registration process with the AEC.

The expenditure threshold to be classed as a third party is $14,000 for the 2021/22 financial year. The threshold to be classed as a significant third party has recently changed and is now $250,000 for a single financial year.

“I would encourage those who lead charities to view the AEC’s guidance, along with the ACNC guidance to ensure they are not risking their organisation’s registration,” Dr Johns said.