The recent General Election has led to greater media scrutiny of charities’ political campaigning and their relationships with the major political parties. A number of charities have been criticised recently for their public support of particular political parties. This leads to the important question of what, if any, campaigning and political activity charities may legitimately carry out.
The Charity Commission’s guidance states that charities may carry out non-political campaigning to raise awareness of a particular issue (“campaigning”) and, assuming that it is not the sole or continuing activity of the charity, may even campaign with the aim of changing legislation or policy (“political activity”). However, the latter is only acceptable within certain parameters, e.g. it must be in furtherance of the charity’s charitable purposes and reasonably likely to be effective. The overriding principles are that charities should only engage with political parties to the extent this furthers their charitable purposes, and should ensure that they remain independent of any political parties and politicians.
In brief, a charity:
- may campaign to raise awareness or educate the public of/on a particular issue which coincides with its charitable purposes;
- should only campaign to change legislation or policy having paid careful regard to the Commission’s guidance;
- should not give support to a specific party, but may support particular policies which will contribute to its own charitable purposes;
- should not engage and work solely with one political party, but should do so with various different political parties to ensure neutrality;
- should be open and transparent about the contact it has with parties and/or politicians;
- should not assist a party or politician to get elected;
- should not encourage its supporters and/or beneficiaries to support a particular candidate.
Charities must also be aware of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Act 2014, which took effect from January 2014. This was the subject of a recent presentation by Neasa Coen of the Charities Team, at an event co-hosted with Philanthropy Impact in February 2015 (The Pitfalls and Opportunities in Political Campaigning).