Charities electoral expenditure and disclosure

Updated: 30 January 2019

The term ‘charity’ on this page refers to registered entities under the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012. Charities that incur expenditure (at or above the disclosure threshold) to influence voters in a federal election are subject to the requirements of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act). This type of expenditure can create an obligation to register and report to the AEC.

What is electoral matter and electoral expenditure?

Electoral matter means matter communicated or intended to be communicated for the dominant purpose of influencing the way electors vote in a federal election.

Electoral expenditure means expenditure incurred for the dominant purpose of creating or communicating electoral matter.

There are exceptions for certain activities. You can find out more about electoral expenditure and electoral matter, and some useful examples, in the AEC Electoral matter and electoral expenditure factsheet.

When are you required to report electoral spending?

A charity incurring electoral expenditure under the value of the disclosure threshold does not need to provide a disclosure return to the AEC, nor register with the AEC.

Reporting electoral expenditure

Where charities incur expenditure above the disclosure threshold in a financial year for the purpose of influencing the way electors vote in an election, they are subject to the requirements of the Electoral Act. Charities are required to disclose domestic donations to the AEC for the amount or value equal to or above the disclosure threshold, which are then used:

  • to incur electoral expenditure;
  • to create or communicate electoral matter; or
  • to reimburse the charity for one of these activities.

Third party

Where a charity incurs electoral expenditure over the disclosure threshold in a financial year, but below the amount that would require it to be registered as a ‘political campaigner’ (see below), it will have the obligations of a ‘third party’ to:

  • Provide an annual return to the AEC; and
  • Comply with foreign donations restrictions.

Learn more about third party electoral expenditure and disclosure.

Political Campaigner

Registration as a political campaigner is required when:

  • electoral expenditure is $500,000 or more during that financial year or any one of the previous three financial years; or
  • electoral expenditure is $100,000 or more during that financial year, and electoral expenditure during the previous financial year was at least two-thirds of the revenue of the person or entity for that year.

Where a charity meets the definition of a political campaigner, it will have the obligations of a political campaigner to:

  • provide an annual return to the AEC; and
  • comply with foreign donations restrictions.

The annual return for a political campaigner must ordinarily disclose details of all amounts received, whether they are donations or other receipts, that are more than the disclosure threshold. A charity that is a political campaigner, however, does not need to disclose details of an amount received if no part of that amount was used during the financial year to:

  • incur electoral expenditure, or create or communicate electoral matter; or
  • reimburse the charity for those purposes.

Learn more about political campaigners.

Restrictions on foreign donations

There are restrictions on the receipt and/or use of foreign donations by third parties and political campaigners:

  • There are no restrictions on a charity that is not a third party or political campaigner from receiving or using foreign donations.
  • If you are a third party you are able to receive foreign donations, but you are restricted from using any part of a gift from a foreign source to incur electoral expenditure or create or communicate electoral matter.
  • If you are a political campaigner you cannot receive foreign donations of $1,000 or more, regardless of what you ultimately use those donations for. You are also restricted from receiving donations of $100 or more from a foreign source where those donations will be used to incur electoral expenditure or create or communicate electoral matter.

Learn more about foreign donations in the AEC foreign donations factsheet.

Further information

For assistance in understanding the election funding and disclosure obligations of a charity, email fad@aec.gov.au or alternatively call the Funding and Disclosure help desk on (02) 6271 4552.
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