- Any non-party organisation who plans to spend more than £20,000 in England or £10,000 in the rest of the UK on regulated campaign activity in the run up to elections must be registered with the Electoral Commission.
- There are five types of regulated campaign activities which include spending money on: election material, canvassing and market research, public rallies and events, press conferences and media events and campaign transport.
- As a result of the recent snap election, the Electoral Commission has announced that the regulated period came into force retrospectively and started in June 2016
At a Glance:
For the purposes of the snap election held on 8 June 2017, non-party organisations should have calculated their total amount of spending, if any, on regulated campaign activity since 9 June 2016 (a twelve month period). If spending exceeded £20,000 in England or £10,000 in the rest of the UK, that non-party organisation should have registered with the Electoral Commission.
As a result of a number of high-profile corporate lobbying scandals, the Lobbying Act was passed in 2014 however, since then, the Act’s remit appears to have been slightly more far reaching than first thought and charities have found themselves having to register with the Electoral Commission as a result of significant amounts of money spent on campaigning.
Since 2000, under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, as soon as an election is announced, certain rules apply regulating the spending of campaigners that are not political parties (as this could potentially influence voters’ decisions and the outcome of an election). Feeling the biggest hit here is of course charities as they are not political parties but often campaign for legislative or policy change.
If a charity (or other non-party organisations) plans to spend more than £20,000 in England or £10,000 in the rest of the UK on regulated campaign activity in the run up to elections (known as the ‘regulated period’), it must be registered with the Electoral Commission.
Following the recent snap election last month, the Electoral Commission has announced that the regulated period came into force retrospectively and started in June 2016. As a snap election may be called at any time there is no fixed start or end date to the regulated period which would seemingly place charities in a rather precarious position.
- John Sauven, Greenpeace UK’s executive director, said the decision would have a huge impact on charities’ activities, commenting on the regulated period he said “It’s as if the Lobbying Act and its spending cap were now permanently in force, every day of every year.” which, according to Sophie Neuburg, a campaigner for environmental charity Friends of the Earth is likely to mean that huge amounts of staff will be diverted into making sure their work complies with the Lobbying Act.
Despite references to the Lobbying Act’s ‘gagging’ effect it is important to note exactly what the campaigning rules say rather than to only rely upon information communicated through the prism of the media.
- In terms of what will constitute relevant spending (for the purpose of calculating whether or not the campaigning exceeds the given amount), the money must be used on:
- Not all campaigning is relevant and it does not include forms of campaigning such as lobbying ministers for changes to government policy;
- Any individual or organisation is entitled to campaign at a general election however, if spending exceeds a certain amount, such non-party campaigners must register with the Charities Commission;
- campaigning activities that could be reasonably regarded as intended to influence people to vote for or against particular political parties, or for any particular category of candidates;
- campaigning activities that are public facing.
If you’re concerned about the implications of the recent snap election and you represent a charity or voluntary organisation which has spent money on regulated activity prior to the announcement of the election, which now falls within the regulated period, you should determine whether that spending is close to, or already in excess of, the threshold for registering with the Electoral Commission.
Our specialist charity team at Mackrell Turner Garrett advises on many aspects of charity law including compliance with legislation. If you would like further information in connection with this article or you w