Wednesday, February 20, 2008

CRA Issues Proposed Guidelines and Request for Comments Regarding Exempt Research Organizations

The Canadian Revenue Agency recently issued proposed guidelines outlining the requirements for tax exemption as a charitable research organization:

This document sets out the proposed policy of the Charities Directorate, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) concerning the legal and administrative requirements a registered charity is expected to fulfil in order to conduct or fund research as a charitable activity.  The CRA wants to hear from charities, individuals involved in charitable work, government departments, and the general public. We would like your opinion about how easy these guidelines are to understand and apply, and we  welcome your comments about any aspects of the proposed guidelines. Please feel free to forward this information to groups who may not be regular visitors to our site, but who may be interested in contributing their views. We will consider all of the comments that we receive by February 29, 2008.

The thorniest issue in the U.S. and other places too, obviously, regarding exempt scientific organizations is the extent to which the organization's activities convey a private benefit.   Compare 1.501(c)(3)-1(d)(5).  In other words, granting tax exemption to organizations that exist to discover new cures, methods, etc., all of which are very likely to make at least one individual pretty rich, magnificantly focuses attention on the notion that people should not get rich from tax exempt supported ideas.  We want to support research into the discovery of cancer or HIV, but whoever toils away in a tax exempt supported university lab or scientific organization is bound to get rich.   There are other areas of tax exemption that struggle to draw the line between public benefit and private wealth.  I rather agree with Adam Smith's observation that the individual struggle and attainment of wealth inures to the benefit of us all.  It follows, that though we should be careful about tax exemption being intentionally diverted to private wealth, we should not worry so much if achieving a public good has the foreseeable but unintentional effect of making someone rich.  The Canadian proposed guidelines, too, struggle with that issue.


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