Charities don’t understand general election campaigning rules

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Charities could be at risk of fines because they don't know what campaigning activities they are allowed to take part in during election campaigns

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28th April 2017 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

Most charities don’t understand new rules around charity campaigning in the run up to general elections.

Research from Campaign Collective and Sapio Research, has found that less than one if five charities understand the restrictions they are under due to the controversial 2014 UK Lobbying Act.

As a result, the research suggests some charities may be scared of getting involved in campaigning during the election period, while others may be at risk of a fine.

According to the findings, over half of charities and social enterprises (52%) believe the 2017 general election will be important for their organisation, but less than a quarter (23%) plan to campaign over the next few months.

However, as this number is higher than the 18% of organisation that say the completely understand the lobbying rules, some could be in danger of falling foul of the so-called gagging clause conditions.

Last week, it was revealed the Electoral Commission fined Friends of the Earth £1000 and Greenpeace £30,000 for campaigning during the 2015 general election.

Greenpeace said in the run-up to the 2015 election it visited coastal communities around the UK to campaign for sustainable fishing policies to be included in the parties’ manifestos, holding events supported by MPs and candidates of all parties from Ukip to the Green party. It accrued the fine for refusing to register with the Electoral Commission.

Simon Francis, founder member of Campaign Collective, he said: “The Lobbying Act election restrictions apply to all organisations, charity or corporate.

“It is highly concerning that so few organisations are aware of the restrictions that apply during this period, especially in light of the fines recently handed out to two charities by the Electoral Commission.

“Criticisms around the lack of communication to groups about the law revealed in reports into the last election clearly have not been fully addressed.”

“While advice to charities and campaigners on the General Election is to resist being silenced by the Lobbying Act, they can’t ignore the rules.”

The Lobbying Act requires civil society organisations to register with the Electoral Commission if they plan to spend more than £20,000 in England or £10,000 in the rest of the UK on so-called regulated activities.

However, this latest research found just 18% of organisations say they completely understand the rules, 37% somewhat understand and 44% do not really or not at all appreciating the restrictions that apply.

At the heart of the Lobbying Act are what’s called the purpose and public tests. These tests are how organisations can see if activity is covered.

If the purpose of activity “can reasonably be regarded as intended to influence voters to vote for or against political parties or categories of candidates, including political parties or categories of candidates who support or do not support particular policies or issues” it is covered.

Additionally, specific tactics might also be covered by the ‘public’ test if the activity is “also aimed at, [can be] seen or heard by, or involve the public.”

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