Premier Jason Kenney is right to question the activities of charitable organizations, he’s just wrong to focus on one small group of charities.
Charitable organizations, with tax-free status and authority to issue tax deductible receipts, are privileged indeed. Yet charity laws are fraught with enforcement challenges and competing interests.
Hunters, businesses and communities reap economic benefits from Ducks Unlimited even though there are other rural Albertans opposed to their water diversion schemes.
Many environmentalists would applaud their commitment to wetland development but frown on foreign hunters coming to kill birds.
Kenney is teaching us to hate environmental groups opposing the pipeline, yet Ducks Unlimited is also an environmental group.
The same can be said for religious institutions. Few may dispute the right of Judeo-Christian churches to have charitable status, yet can the same be said for Muslim mosques or Jewish Synagogues?
Throughout history, Jews have been hated as money grabbers and many believe mosques are incubators of terrorism. Even today some churches seem to promote right-wing politics as synonymous with Christian values, especially as witnessed in the United States.
These examples are simply used to show how conflicted we are when discussing who is abusing their charitable status.
Governments could eliminate charitable status altogether, but a better option might be to audit the donors—does their donation lead to personal financial gain? The obvious targets for such audits would be ‘think tanks’.
Two think tanks most often quoted in Alberta are the Parkland Institute on the left and the Fraser Institute on the right. Under the guise of independent researchers, they pump out reports to sway public opinion and economic policy. Yet both can cherry-pick data to shape public perspective in line with their donor’s wishes.
It’s hard to imagine how Parkland Institute donors would gain personal wealth, but the same cannot be said for the donors of the Fraser Institute.
Right-wing ideology think tanks, founded by wealthy Americans, started to proliferate in the US in the 1970s.
The Koch Brothers were the leaders in this movement and today they are the largest donor of foreign dollars to the Fraser Institute.
The Koch Brothers wealth is oil and gas; their mantra is climate change denial and their investment in the Alberta oil sands is significant.
Their large donations to right-wing think tanks, on both sides of the border, protects and grows their personal wealth and has been highly successful.
Liberal and Conservative political parties and the Canadian public have bought into their mantra that low taxes, few regulations, small government and trickle-down economics benefit everyone.
Nothing is further from the truth, but it is a testament to the power of money.
Today, corporations run governments for the good of corporations, and in the United States they own the White House.
As Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner said, “When you have a few people who are so wealthy that they can effectively buy the political system, the political system is going to tend to serve their interests”.
Charitable organizations should face regular audits, but think tanks, not environmental groups, need our special attention.
Think tanks, as the name implies, tries to influence our minds to their way of thinking.
The Koch Brothers’ 35-year investment in think tanks has indeed been a financial windfall for the wealthiest one per cent of the one per cent.
Today, right-wing think tanks are powerful political bodies of influence at our highest levels of government.
Since there is nothing charitable about mind manipulation, all think tanks, including those on the left, need to be stripped of their charitable status, now.