As we all know charities aim to raise awareness for their causes and to work for the greater public good however, since the introduction of the Lobbying Act 2014, many charities believe that their voices have been restricted. The initial intention behind the act was to enhance the transparency of those seeking to lobby ministers and secretaries on behalf of a third party, to curb corporate lobbying and to prevent wealthy individuals from being able to “influence an election”.
What is the Lobbying Act 2014?
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 (otherwise known as the Lobbying Act 2014) introduced new rules for charities and campaigning groups who undertook public facing campaigns. Non-party organisations that spend more than the set amount on regulated campaigning, (in England this was approximately £320,000, within the period of 1 year before any General Election) are required to register with the Electoral Commission as non-party campaigners.
Regulated activities include media events, transport for a campaign, canvassing and market research and public events where they can be reasonably “regarded as intended to influence voters to vote for or against political parties”.
What does this mean for charities?
Due to the recent General Election, the conversation surrounding the Act has risen again and a number of charities have described the Act as “chilling”. The charities believe that they have been “weighed down by an unreasonable and unfair law” restricting their ability to forward their charity’s aims and goals through contributing to the UK’s democratic society.
Charities and other non-governmental organisations have had to either register with the Electoral Commission or restrict their spending for the year-long campaign period. This is for total spending and can seriously impact charities who have employees to pay and important campaigns to run. The impact of the Act was first experienced through the fining of Greenpeace in 2015. The charity was fined £30,000 for spending over the set limit and failing to register themselves during the last election.
Many charities have had to reduce the activities that they have been involved in and withdraw from campaigns or discourse in the run up to elections to ensure that they are not expressing any political opinion/message which would fall foul of the Act.
Due to the snap election, many charities may not have been prepared and may not fully understand the regulations leaving them open to fines from the Electoral Commission. Given the present political uncertainty, this debate is likely to continue.
There is of course a larger issue here namely should charities be encouraged to lobby and can this lead to larger charities controlling the debate? These are keen issues on which clarification is required.