Do you understand the impact of the Lobby Act on Charities?
Ben Wilkinson is head of external communications for the Electoral Commission, overseeing its media relations and public affairs activity and its public information service. Ben joined the Commission earlier this year having previously worked in central government departments.
If you were to believe some of the media coverage over recent days, you might worry that a drive had been launched to silence charities and voluntary organisations. ‘Charities may face criminal sanctions under gagging law’, a Guardian headline reported, for example.
What prompted this fear, and this coverage, is the upcoming general election. Since 2000 under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, as soon as an election is announced, rules kick in regulating the spending of campaigners that are not political parties. Charities are included in the definition of ‘non-party campaigners’ and it is therefore important that they are aware of the rules.
But, as is often the case when matters are communicated through the prism of the press, how much charities are actually affected by the rules has been exaggerated. Charities and other non-party campaigners are vital to a healthy democracy and we encourage their active participation during campaign periods. The rules do not prevent them from campaigning and engaging in public debate.
Our interest at the Electoral Commission is on how much is spent on campaigning that can influence voters’ decisions and the outcome of the election: where a significant amount of money is being spent on this type of campaigning, the rules require those individuals and organisations to register with us and declare their spending. Surely nobody can disagree that it is right that voters can see who is spending that money and what they are campaigning for.
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