Tuesday, May 8, 2018
New Zealand Denies Greenpeace Charitable Status because its Views on Environment Wouldn't Benefit the Public
Earlier this year, New Zealand denied charity status to Greenpeace because it found its policy positions to be contrary to the public interest. Under New Zealand law, charitable activities may involve seeking policy changes, but the purpose must be in furtherance of the public benefit. (For thorough coverage of New Zealand charity law, see this book by Poirier.) The registration board rejected Greenpeace's application on two grounds:
- Greenpeace promotes its points of view on the environment and other issues in ways that cannot be found to be for the benefit of the public.
- Greenpeace and its members’ involvement in illegal activities amounts to an illegal purpose which disqualifies it from registration.
On the first point, the Charities Registration Board reasoned:
Although the Supreme Court in Greenpeace held that advocacy can be charitable, it indicated that promoting a cause or advocating a particular viewpoint will not often be charitable. This is because it is not possible to say whether the views promoted are for the public benefit in the way the law recognises as charitable.
The Board considers that Greenpeace’s focus is on advocating its point of view on environmental issues such fossil fuel exploration and the expansion of intensive dairy farming. Most of Greenpeace’s environmental advocacy cannot be determined to be in the public benefit when all the potential consequences of adopting its views are taken into account.
The Board noted that advocacy for protection of the environment could be considered charitable, but Greenpeace's positions were simply too extreme to be considered in the public benefit. For example, the Board acknowledged that "in general" advocacy for sustainability is charitable, Greenpeace's concern about climate change and advocacy for specific policies such as the role of fossil fuels "is a complex issue that requires in-depth consideration of the potential consequences of New Zealand's international obligations and interests, environmental risks, the importance of fossil fuels in New Zealand's economy, the competing interests of industries, economic costs, and New Zealand's dealings with other nations." Finding Greenpeace's position on policy to not consider the other criteria, the Board couldn't find that "the views promoted by Greenpeace on climate change are of a benefit in the way that the law recognises as charitable."
The rejection of Greenpeace's application on the first ground may seem surprising to those in the US. Although there was once a time when governments in the US weighed whether an organization's policy viewpoints were in the public interest (and while some who dislike the NRA, the ACLU, or other advocacy grounds have urged a return to the discretionary denial of yesteryear), those days have largely passed, in no small part to Constitutional/First Amendment concerns.
Back to New Zealand, Greenpeace appealed an earlier board decision against it, so it will be interesting to see if this is heading up the courts again.