New guidelines for non-party campaigning published

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Vote Polling Station Credit Elliott Stallion via Unsplash
24 September, 2019

 

The Electoral Commission has published new guidelines that help to clarify rules governing charity campaigning in the lead up to elections and referendums.

Charities have long called for reform of the Lobbying Act for themselves and other electoral law for non-party campaigners as they constrain their right to campaign.

This has been compounded by the fact that the Electoral Commission’s guidance on what electoral law means for campaigning in the run-up to an election hasn’t been clear or reassuring enough for charities.

As a result, lots of charities think that the rules are more restrictive than they actually are.

The main points updated in the guidance are:

Registration thresholds

Most charities don’t spend enough to need to register their charity. Regulated activity is that which could reasonably be regarded as intended to influence voters and the spending limits are £20,000 in England and £10,000 in Scotland Wales or Northern Ireland.

Charities are different and the guidance recognises that

Most charities, so long as you are following Charity Commission guidance on political activity, don’t need to register with the Electoral Commission.

The purpose test

  • The old reference to activity including a ‘call to action’ has been narrowed to ‘call to action to voters’. A lot of charities were understandably worried that virtually all campaigning involved some kind of call to action. The new wording makes it clearer that the Electoral Commission is only concerned with an explicit or implicit ask to vote for or against candidates or parties.
  • It also now refers to ‘setting out or comparing the merits of the positions of political parties or candidates on a policy’ – not just the positions.
  • Carrying on with what you were already doing or planning to do is unlikely to become regulated activity just because a party’s adopted your policy.

Reassurance about the retrospective regulated period and unexpected elections

The guidance makes clear that in the Electoral Commission’s view, campaigners usually can’t reasonably be regarded as intending to influence an election they didn’t know about.

NCVO, ACEVO and Bond have all worked on the new guidance. In a blog, NCVO’s Policy Manager, Douglas Powell said:

“We’re really pleased to see this guidance and we hope it will make charities more confident about campaigning.

“There are still issues in the legislation that are problematic, such as the joint campaigning rules, and need proper reform. But in the meantime, this guidance makes it clear that the law is a lot less restrictive than many fear. We’d encourage our members, and all charities, to make the most of it.”

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