Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Greenpeace Charity Status in New Zealand at Risk for Political Activities

TVNZ reports that the New Zealand affiliate of Greenpeace has lost significant tax breaks that are now only available to recognized charities.  While the affiliate maintains it qualifies as a charity, the New Zealand Charity Commission has rejected that claim based on the level of the affiliate's political involvement.  It was only six years ago that the Charity Commission was established and purported charities had to formally register with the Commission.  While most applicants have successfully registered, the Commission has rejected registration for a number of organizations, including Greenpeace of New Zealand.  The tax benefits at issue include exemption from income tax and tax rebate elibility for donors.  The affiliate is making an argument that will be familiar to U.S. readers, that the law fails to provide a clear line regarding how much political advocacy is too much and that such advocacy can be an essential part of fulfilling a charitable mission.

More specifically, in rejecting the registration application, the Charity Commission concluded: "the Commission considers that if the promotion of disarmament and peace [one of the affiliate's stated purposes] is done in a way that is considered political, for example, by requiring a change of law or government policy in New Zealand or abroad, it will not be charitable."  The Commission also concluded that a general purpose statement that the affiliate would "[p]romote the adoption of legislation, policies, rules, regulations and plans which further the objects of the Society and support the enforcement or implementation through political or judicial processes as necessary" also demonstrated an independent, non-charitable purpose.  The Commission further concluded that these two purposes demonstrated a non-ancillary, political purpose and so disqualified the affiliate from charity status under New Zealand law, which is based in large part on English law.



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