The lobbying bill before the Commons has upset 38 degrees and some other campaigning groups. They argue that if enacted it will limit the freedom for charities to campaign about political matters.
Their arguments seem to be based on a misunderstanding of the current law and of the intents of the Bill. Under present election law a third party cannot normally spend money on promoting an individual candidate or political party during an election period, without the permission of the candidate or party. The cost they incur in such a promotion rightly has to be part of the approved budget of that candidate or party, and properly reported like all party expenditure in an election period. The Lobbying Bill reasserts but does not change this fundamental point.
Nor does the Bill seek to change the rules on charities. Under charity law they are not entitled to give money donated for their charitable purpose to a political party. They cannot intervene directly in an election with charitable money, but they are entitled to undertake politcal campaigning relevant to and in support of their charitable aims and objectives. None of this is changed by the Bill. Some readers of this blog might want the Bill to make it more difficult for charities to be involved in politics, but this is not the aim of this particular piece of legislation.
If a third party wanted to support my candidature, because they support my views on a topic or range of issues, they would have to approach my Election Agent and agree what they would spend and how that spending would be controlled and reported. Anything they spent for me would come off the permitted total I am allowed to spend. Without such a rule campaign spending limits would be meaningless, as candidates and parties could simply operate through tame third parties and spend more. It is and will remain an election offence to spend money on promotion without authorisation and without reporting it to the authorities after the election.
The Bill reminds third parties of these rules, and reduces the limits they are allowed to spend on promoting parties. It is silent on the definition of charitable purposes, which will remain as before. Many people who give money to charity think a charity should keep out of party politics altogether, and would not think it appropriate for a charity to back a certain party or certain candidates. The Bill does not change charity law concerning charities involvement in campaigning politics. Again it has always been illegal for a charity to make its main purpose political, but it is and remains legal for it to try to influence government and Parliament on matters relevant to its primary charitable purpose.
I hope constituents who have written to me about this mater using the 38 degrees email will be reassured by the nature and intent of the Bill. I hope you will agree that charities should not be vehicles for promoting political parties and candidates in elections. I also hope people will understand there does need to be a framework of election law which applies to everyone so that campaign spending limits can be enforced. The Bill does reduce the amount a third party can spend on the campaign in England to a maximum of £319,800. It also increases the amount of permitted expenditure for a third party in an individual constituency from £500 to £700 without authorisation of the Election Agent.