Journal of Civil Society
Vol. 11, Issue 3, 2015
Abstract: In Anglo-American common law jurisdictions, there are well-entrenched constraints on political engagement by charities. However, three recent decisions in Australia, New Zealand, and England have either relaxed these constraints or shown early signs of a jurisprudential shift. Against the background of recent charity law reforms in Hong Kong, which have sparked a renewed interest in the relationship between charity and politics, and the limits on the pursuit of political purposes by charities, this article examines the justifications for the political constraints and their underlying assumptions. It argues that while the blanket rule against political purposes should not be maintained, political purposes should not, in themselves, be considered sufficiently charitable. In defining the boundaries between charity and politics, one must balance a charity's legitimate political expression against its pursuit of private gain in the name of charity. This article therefore proposes that whether political activities are permissible should depend on whether they pertain to the promotion of a common good exclusively, leaving no room for private gain occasioning from these activities.