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Setting the record straight: Why the CTF protects the privacy of its donors

August 22, 2014
Setting the record straight: Why the CTF protects the privacy of its donors

On occasion, critics of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation ask why the CTF doesn’t publish its donors’ names, addresses and the amount they give.

The question is often followed by an inaccurate and unsubstantiated claim that the CTF is funded by Big Oil, some shadowy billionaire or a political party in an attempt to suggest that the CTF isn’t a grassroots organization.

To be clear, the CTF welcomes large cheques from billionaires and oil and gas companies. We ask large corporations and wealthy individuals for donations all the time. Our goal is to grow our voluntary donations from all sources to support the work we do.

One can be assured we do not get the level of corporate support received by organizations like the David Suzuki Foundation (e.g. $100,000+ donations from RONA Inc., Desjardins, MTS Allstream, Cisco Systems etc., and an annual $1,000,000+ donation from Power Corporation). That level of corporate support makes us, well, green with envy.

Also, we do not – under any circumstance – accept money from political parties or any level of government. In fact, we won’t even allow any government entity to reimburse us our costs to present to a legislative body. It is a policy written into our bylaws.

Of course, all this innuendo about our funding would be put to rest if we simply published all of the private, personal information about our donors. However, we’re not going to do that. There are many reasons, but the two primary ones are retribution and privacy:

Retribution

Why on earth would we serve up a list of our donors on a platter so that government officials, petty politicians, agitated union activists and various other stalwarts of the entitlement state could target them? Not happening.

We put plastic pigs on the front lawn of Parliament to mock the golden pension plans federal politicians receive, we created a giant inflatable character that some think looks like a disgraced senator, we’ve challenged unionized government employees on their pay and perks, exposed millionaire aboriginal leaders and we regularly call out politicians and bureaucrats for all kinds of boneheaded decisions.

We are one of the loudest, most aggressive advocacy groups in the country. We push back against government but also challenge the recipients of government largesse.

And we’ve seen over the years that governments and others can be vindictive. Consider a few examples:

  • This Winnipeg Free Press story notes how a Manitoba government official threatened to make sure a private sector auditor never saw any future contracts with the government. What did the auditor do to provoke the threat? He was hired by Elections Manitoba to look into the NDP’s finances and an NDP official didn’t like his investigation approach.
  • There are countless sad and disturbing tales that have been relayed to us of what’s happened to aboriginal band members when challenging chiefs and band councils across the country.
  • The Manitoba Jockey Club has spoken out several times, noting they feel their organization has been targeted by the former NDP government because their organization has several Progressive Conservatives on its board.
  • Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich was forced to resign nine days after being appointed CEO after it was disclosed he made a donation six years prior to an anti-gay marriage campaign.
  • Websites and mobile apps have been created to boycott products produced by Koch Industries, headed by conservative donors and activists David and Charles Koch.
  • Boycotts have also been organized to stop buying products produced by companies owned by left-wing activist and donor George Soros over his investments in Israel.

Predictably, we get audited fairly regularly by various federal and provincial entities, but that’s not the worst of it. On many occasions over the years CTF staff members have been called in the middle of the night to be told off, received horrifically offensive letters and e-mails, been threatened with protests at their homes, bomb threats at our offices and even death threats.

The CTF is a very public organization, and not unlike elected officials, people who work for the CTF understand what they’re signing up for. But donors?

Privacy

Not only does people’s personal information need to be protected but so do their personal choices and preferences.

What organizations, interests and hobbies one chooses to support with time and after-tax earnings is not the concern of one’s neighbours and is certainly not the concern of one’s governments.

History is littered with examples of what happens when mobs and states do not believe that people are entitled to think and believe independently.

It’s also the reason we have a secret ballot for our elections.

An argument can certainly be made for disclosure where tax dollars are concerned. If a business or an organization receives money from government, it’s reasonable that the people who provided those funds should see who used them and how they were used.

But the CTF doesn’t accept tax dollars.

The CTF was purposely created with the idea that it would nether accept government funding or seek any charitable tax status. There’s an obvious principle at stake for a taxpayer organization taking this stand, but it also relates to the understanding that government money or government tax concession invites the government’s interfering hands.

The CTF’s founders understood that establishing the organization as a private, not-for-profit – that relied on no government funding or tax concession – was an important way to protect the private information of our supporters and donors.

Further, in the same way Safeway does not provide Walmart with the names, addresses, phone numbers and weekly shopping tabs of their customers, the CTF is not going to provide another organization with names, addresses, phone numbers and the areas of policy interests of our donors.  

That kind of information would be valuable to other groups, but our published privacy policy makes clear that we will never “under any circumstance publish, disclose, sell, exchange, or give away personal information which we have collected.”

Expressing one’s political views is an act of consciousness. You can choose to do so publicly or you can choose to do so privately. Choosing the latter does not entitle others who either agree with your views or despise your views to obtain your name, address, phone number and donation history.

What we disclose

The CTF is not legally required to disclose any donor information. We are required, however, to submit an annual financial audit to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. (Anyone can file an Access to Information request and receive a copy of it, but we will save you $5 and save taxpayers the expense of having to pay someone to mail it to you. You can download it here.)

Having said that, it’s reasonable to ask how an organization is funded and organized (the latter dealt with in a separate article). More important, we are proud of how we are funded and organized and believe it is a model for others to follow in terms of non-reliance on taxpayer handouts, effectiveness and legitimacy.

First and foremost, we encourage voluntary donor disclosure. On every page of Taxpayer.com there’s a donation link on the right hand side. Rotating below that link are voluntary comments from donors to the CTF. Some donors leave their comment anonymously; others leave just their name, others just their donation amount and others still a comment, their name and how much they donated.

Further, if you’ve ever attended a CTF event like the World Taxpayers Conference, or one of our TaxFighter Award receptions, you would have seen the names of any event sponsors prominently posted. Or, if you’ve ever seen the travelling National Debt Clock, the names and logos of the donors to that campaign are plastered on the trailer. And that’s not to mention the hundreds of names of donors that are on the side and back of the debt clock itself.

Obviously, those are not all of our donors, so we publish donor information, in aggregate, stripped of any personally identifiable information. Here’s our latest financial disclosure document: http://www.taxpayer.com/media/CTF_Disclosure_2016(1).pdf

As you can see, in 2015-16 the CTF received 29,102 donations (from 22,765 donors). To put this into context, the current federal governing party, the Liberal Party of Canada, received 77,064 donations in 2014, and that’s with the benefit of the most outrageously generous tax credit in the country. In comparison, the Green Party received 23,726 donations.

Of the CTF’s 29,102 donations, 28,562 (or 98.1%) of them were in amounts smaller than $1,000. Those donations totaled $3,761,072 (or 80%) of our total revenue for the year.

That means that we also received 540 donations in amounts over $1,000. That works out to 1.9% of all donors and brought in $886,798 or 19% of our total revenue.

Now let’s look at averages. For those 28,562 donations under $1,000, the average donation was $132. For those 540 donations over $1,000, the average donation was $1,642.

An exemplary funding model

It is incredibly humbling that 22,765 Canadians voluntarily reach into their wallets each year and provide a donation with their after-tax dollars to support the work we do.

We’re proud of the vast network of donors that we’ve worked hard to develop over the years. We’re even prouder of the fact most donors donate again and again, year after year.

In our view, the highest principle in legitimacy of an organization is not whether it discloses its donors, but whether those donors are forced to contribute or choose to contribute. An organization disclosing “Government of Canada” or “CUPE” may achieve the goal of disclosure but it certainly does not achieve the goal of legitimacy or the title of “grassroots.”

What would more accurately describe the term “grassroots:” organizations funded by forced taxes and forced union dues or organizations funded by voluntary donations?

The CTF is proud to count itself among the latter. How many other organizations that debate public policy in Canada can make the same claim? How many other organizations that send representatives to parliamentary and legislative hearings pay their own expenses?

Our policy is that just as people “choose” to donate to the CTF to make our work possible, so too can they “choose” to disclose their donation and personal information. Many do, others do not. We unapologetically protect and uphold their decision in a manner consistent with our privacy policy and Canadian law.

By Tom McCarten
on January 01, 2016
Simply brilliant, clear and unequivocal Scott, well done. Cheers

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