Lobbying and elections

 

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.

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36 Comments

  1. lifelogic
    Posted September 4, 2013 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    I do not know enough to add much to the above but I read that five Conservatives – Douglas Carswell, Philip Davies, David Davis, Zac Goldsmith and David Nuttall – voted against the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill.

    Personally I would limit charitable activities and tax relief to real expenditure on direct narrowly defined charitable activities not lobbying or political activity. Clearly trade unions should give members rights to individually direct any political levies as they see fit.

    I cannot help but think that limiting the freedom for charities to campaign about political matters (and making them concentrate on real charitable activities) would be a very thing. Charities are so often merely irrational appeals to childish emotion in order to raise money and extend the power base. This usually overrides logic, science and reason and does positive harm. The green issue being perhaps the biggest outrage here.

    • Richard1
      Posted September 4, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      This is true, many charities have effectively become political pressure groups, the problem is the permission they have as explained above to campaign for an issue impacting their primary purpose. A charity can make any claim it likes under that heading. Thus we often see the Royal Soc for the Protection of Birds frequently agitating for green policies and supporting wind farms (though wind farms are a danger to birds). Many other well known charities have become vehicles for the promotion of left-wing politics, including high taxes, trade protectionism and global warming alarmism. The charities which seem to be most active in this regard seem to be the large and well known ones which benefit from substantial taxpayer subsidy. Charities should raise 100% of their money privately and should lose charitable status if they become too political.

      • uanime5
        Posted September 4, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        According to the RSPCB both cats and cars are a greater danger to birds than wind farms. I suspect you ignored this because it didn’t fit with your ideology.

    • Acorn
      Posted September 4, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink
      • Denis Cooper
        Posted September 4, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        Having read that analysis I now think that JR is being far too complacent about the possible ramifications.

        “Areas that you may wish to focus on in particular include that:

        the Bill creates significant regulatory uncertainty for large and small organisations that campaign on, or even discuss, public policy issues in the year before the next general election, and imposes significant new burdens on such organisations

        the Bill effectively gives the Electoral Commission a wide discretion to interpret what activity will be regulated as political campaigning. It is likely that some of our readings of the law will be contentious and challenged, creating more uncertainty for those affected. While we as the independent regulator should be free to decide when the rules have been broken, and how to deal with breaches of the rules, we do not think it is appropriate for us to have a wide discretion over what activity is covered by the rules

        some of the new controls in the Bill may in practice be impossible to enforce, and it is important that Parliament considers what the changes will achieve in reality, and balances this against the new burdens imposed by the Bill on campaigners”

        Reply Ministers assure us they are not chaning charity law, and charities will be able to camapign after as before, and still remain prohibited from using charity monies to intervene in elections pro candidates and parties. Which clause do you think changes things, and how would you amend it?

        • Denis Cooper
          Posted September 4, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

          I’m not so much concerned about the effects on charities, but on individuals and small groups who may be caught up in:

          “the Bill creates significant regulatory uncertainty for large and small organisations that campaign on, or even discuss, public policy issues in the year before the next general election, and imposes significant new burdens on such organisations”

          We have a long and valuable tradition of an individual or a small groups of individuals being free to spontaneously start a campaign on some matter, but it appears that under this law that freedom could be restricted for a whole year prior to a general election.

          Reply Only if they wish to campaign for or against parties and candidates in the election.

          • Denis Cooper
            Posted September 4, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

            I’m only going by the briefing note produced by the Electoral Commission, but it seems that:

            a) The restrictions apply for a whole year before polling day, not just during the actual election campaign; and

            b) There is considerable uncertainty what the restrictions would be in practice.

            So suppose that it’s June 2014, and that some issue arises in your Wokingham constituency which fires up some of your constituents to come together as a campaign group.

            I’m sure that in principle you would applaud that kind of initiative as an expression of their interest in public affairs and their willingness to get involved rather than sitting back and just letting events take their course, and that you would still applaud it, if only in principle, even if you disagreed with the substance of their campaign.

            But what if they started to criticise Conservative policy as part of their campaign, and mentioned that they had approached you for support and you had refused to support them, but on the other hand the Wokingham parliamentary spokesman for the Liberal Democrats was actively supporting them?

            Would they then find themselves accused of attempting to influence the outcome of the parliamentary election which would take place eleven months later, and be told that they should register as a campaigning group and submit their accounts to the Electoral Commission, etc?

            From their briefing paper, the Electoral Commission wouldn’t know the answer to that, and nor would they want to decide what the answer should be and then possibly have a legal challenge over their decision.

            Reply: The current position is repeated in the Bill. There’s nothing wrong with an issue protest group, but if during an election period they wanted to assist a candidate then they have to obey Electoral expense rules. This is not changing. During an election period I cannot, for example, acept an invitation to a dinner or event where I am mentioned or speak, unless I am prepared to put the cost of that event in as an election expense (whether I paiud anything towards it or not)

          • Acorn
            Posted September 4, 2013 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

            I can’t see how you would avoid straying into campaigning for or against a party and particularly a rebel party candidate. A Euro-sceptic Conservative for instance.

          • Denis Cooper
            Posted September 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

            Well, JR, the Electoral Commission, despite all its other faults not notorious as a bunch of hysterical swivel-eyed loons who will always get the wrong end of any stick, seem to think that there are serious problems with this Bill.

            And so does the author here:

            http://archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/lobbying-bill-will-silence-churches-and.html

            “It is inconceivable that the Government is introducing this Bill without any awareness of its autocratic implications. Ergo we must consider the possibility that a Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition is purposely intent on introducing a Bill which is fundamentally un-conservative, illiberal and undemocratic. It cuts to the foundations of our democracy and constitutes a direct assault on free speech and freedom of religion. This is not a Bill to control lobbying; it is a Bill to curb dissent and impede those who seek to challenge the status quo of the establishment. One hopes and prays that the Lords Spiritual and Temporal will expose its sinister agenda when it comes for debate in the Upper House.”

    • Hope
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      When’s the outcome from donors dining at No10 going to be concluded? Cameron was there and lived there long enough to know who paid for the electric,war, gas, food, staff etc. he was going to clean up parliament and told us how lobbying would be the next scandal.

  2. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted September 4, 2013 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    If for instance my fictionary charity was saying ‘we work for a greener cleaner world and we support the ‘green party ‘in their aims’ and this fictionary charity was selling solar panels, would that stand as support by a third party.

    Reply If they took out national ads supporting the Green party then yes, that would be party political campaign expenditure.

    • Bob
      Posted September 4, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      How much of the BBC’s costs are considered to be “political campaign expenditure”?

      • lifelogic
        Posted September 4, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

        About 100% the huge BBC expenditure. They seem to get the big state, fake green, anti science, every more government, pro EU, anti business, anti landlord, high tax, more regulation and enforced “equality” agenda into almost every programme and new item.

        Today was endless lefty nonsense about a “living wage” I see.

        • Bazman
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

          Nonsense that the state should subsidise companies unable or unwilling to pay a living wage? Is it lefty to expect companies to pay for minimum living standards instead of the state? Many of the hospitality jobs do not pay enough to live on. You find this acceptable and the taxpayer subsiding them being allowed to continue? More RWC from you.

  3. Mike Stallard
    Posted September 4, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    The real trouble is that a lot of people (including me I am afraid) feel that the current political parties are not actually representing my interests or ideals.

  4. David Hope
    Posted September 4, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    What then is the bill achieving? I have only read brief summaries so I am open minded. It does seem that it is aiming to hurt Labour a little on the lower limits.

    I don’t understand why the lobbyist list only applies to non in-house lobbyists. Also, the whole idea of the list – why. This bill originated after the panorama documentary and the only thing that a list would stop is the journalists being able to trick the politician about their identity. Someone on the list or in a big company could still do all the things in the documentary!

    I might be convinced otherwise but right now it seems that this bill does little to address the real problems and is just some opportunism to push through other things the government wanted.

    • uanime5
      Posted September 4, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      This bill is designed to prevent campaigns such as “Save the NHS” and other campaigns which will make the Government look bad.

  5. Denis Cooper
    Posted September 4, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    I’m a hardliner on political campaigning by charities: if a charity does anything at all with the aim of influencing public policy including public spending plans, and at any time at all not just during election periods, then it should be classed as a political organisation and it should automatically lose its charitable status.

    • Anonymous
      Posted September 4, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Dennis – You are right.

      Also the levels of remuneration for ‘charity’ directors can be obscene.

      • Mike Wilson
        Posted September 4, 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        @Anonymous – You do realise this bill was supposed to be about limiting the power of lobbyists working on behalf of large corporates or trade unions etc.

        • Anonymous
          Posted September 4, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

          Mike – Big charities have all the characteristics of corporations – including the executive salaries.

  6. Denis Cooper
    Posted September 4, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    “Their arguments seem to be based on a misunderstanding of the current law and of the intents of the Bill.”

    I think their argument is partly that the Bill is too loosely drafted and whatever the stated intentions now its provisions could be abused in the future.

    Whether or not that actually happened under a future government, just the fear that it might happen could lead to some individuals being deterred from active participation in the democratic process – the so-called “chilling effect” – while on the other hand larger organised groups with more resources, and wealthy individuals, might be prepared to run the risk of having to defend their actions in court.

    I find there is now some confusion over whether judges should be allowed to refer to Hansard in an attempt to clarify the intentions of Parliament when passing a piece of legislation, but it does appear to have significantly increased legal costs:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pepper_v_Hart

  7. Mike Wilson
    Posted September 4, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    As usual the original purpose of the process has been hijacked. The original idea was to help root corruption out of government. To make sure that people could not lobby – or exert undue influence – on the process of government.

    Instead, it appears we are here to bash charities. A wonderful piece of deflection.
    (Allegations about party funding removed, as the person at the centre of the allegations has cleared his name and forced retractions ed)
    (wants a Bill to address corrupt practices in party funding, practices which are already illegal!)

    That is what the bill was supposed to address. Instead, it appears charities are the real culprits. Orwellian politics at its best.

    Reply No, charities are not culprits in this Bill. May I suggest you read it?

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted September 4, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      I didn’t say charities are the culprits in the Bill. But, now that 38 degrees have pointed out that the scope of the bill means that the power of charities to lobby may be curtailed, it is, suddenly, open season on charities.

      A charity like Shelter, it strikes me, by definition is going to be involved in lobbying politicians to DO something about the appalling housing situation caused by successive governments deciding that our economy could simply work on the basis of us selling progressively and endlessly overpriced houses to each other.

      Reply The Bill as I read it does not change charity law on lobbying/politics. Which clause do you think has the effect you are claiming? Have you read the Bill?

      • uanime5
        Posted September 4, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        John what about sections 26(3)(3) of this bill, which states the following:

        “For election purposes” means for the purpose of or in connection
        with—
        (a)promoting or procuring electoral success at any relevant
        election for—
        (i)one or more particular registered parties,
        (ii)one or more registered parties who advocate (or do not
        advocate) particular policies or who otherwise fall
        within a particular category of such parties, or
        (iii)candidates who hold (or do not hold) particular
        opinions or who advocate (or do not advocate)
        particular policies or who otherwise fall within a
        particular category of candidates, or
        (b)otherwise enhancing the standing—
        (i)of any such party or parties, or
        (ii)of any such candidates,

        This whole section basically makes it illegal to talk about an issue that a political party is talking about.

        Reply Not so. It makes quite clear that as now a charity can continue to campaign on matters and issues relevant to that charity.

        • Denis Cooper
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

          Forget about the bloody charities, most of them are big enough to look after themselves. Much more importantly, could I and some of my neighbours spontaneously join together to form a campaign on some issue without potentially falling foul of this law? The Electoral Commission seems to have grave doubts about that.

        • uanime5
          Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

          Hey John what happens if someone wants to run the following campaigns:

          – Pointing out that Gove’s academies are deliberately excluding children from poorer backgrounds (they have a much lower proportion of students on free school meals that the national average).

          – Stopping Hunt closing down a local A&E department.

          – Pointing out that IDS’s Universal Credit is being badly run and that ATOS is declaring severely disabled people as “fit to work”.

          – Pointing out that badger culls are ineffective or cruel.

          As the bill stands now all of these campaigns would be illegal because they’re criticising MPs and Government policy; so effectively MPs are trying to criminalise any criticism of them during an election year.

          Reply Not so. Please read the Bill.

          • Denis Cooper
            Posted September 6, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

            Those campaigns would not themselves be illegal, but they would fall within the scope of Part 2 of the Bill and those involved could face criminal charges if they failed to comply with the regulations that it would impose.

            Large well-established organisations could afford to employ a compliance officer to make sure that they stayed within the new restrictions, unless they chose to deliberately break them and fight a court action.

            New, impromptu, grassroots campaigns, local and national, would be much more vulnerable to prosecution, or at least to the fear of prosecution, which itself would be a deterrent to getting involved.

            Even an individual setting up a blog to try to further some cause that has fired him up could potentially find the law breathing down his neck.

            As for a campaign like this:

            http://www.saveoursavers.co.uk/

            that very clearly strays into politics, and its founders could easily find themselves facing criminal charges if they failed to comply with the proposed new regulations.

            Is that what you really want, JR?

            Incidentally, what do you think about what seems to me to be a very bad habit of government, that of producing composite Bills with essentially unrelated provisions lumped together rather than having several separate Bills?

            People refer to this Bill as the “lobbying bill”, but its Part 2 has nothing to do with lobbying; to avoid any confusion, why not have it as a completely separate Bill?

            Then as it stands it could be called the “Political Campaigning (Suppression) Bill”, because that’s what it’s about.

            Reply I am assured by Ministers they do not wish to impose new restrictions on non party political campaigning. There are already clear expense and campaign rules affecting those of us who stand for election, and therefore also affecting everyone else. Ministers have also said that as they do not wish to change the law in this respect they will talk to charities and others to see if there is a rephrasing of the Bill which is meant to be restating existing law that they find more acceptable. Reading this I think many of you do now know the strict rules already in place over party political expenses and campaigning, and I do from time to time have to remind supporters of smaller parties coming onto this site for example that they should also follow the rules the rest of us have to follow.

  8. Max Dunbar
    Posted September 4, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Your first paragraph says it all.
    The rest appear to be technicalities. We all know that in reality the ‘charity’ tail wags the government dog in a number of cases.
    (para left out with an e.g. I have not been able to verify ed)
    Who was the real power behind the Gay Marriage bill?
    And is a charity really and charity when many of them receive more than half of their funding from the taxpayer?

  9. oldtimer
    Posted September 4, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I dislike charities that engage in political campaigning, especially that which departs from its main purpose. The RSPB, already mentioned above, has done this. Furthermore I dislike charities that take taxpayers money (via grants) that promote a government policy rather than their principal charitable purpose. The last Labour government dished out money this way to promote its green agenda; recipients included trade union related organisations and the National Trust. I was sufficiently outraged by this that I wrote and complained to my MP about it.

    This gives me the opportunity to suggest, once again, that the Treasury be required to publish, each year, how much is doled out in grants, to whom and for what purpose. As others have often pointed out, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

  10. uanime5
    Posted September 4, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    John your attempts to mislead people over why 38 degrees is complaining about this bill isn’t fooling anyone. Under the terms of this bill one year before an election any group which wishes to spend over £5,000 campaigning on any issue considered “political” has to register with the Electoral Commission. Even if they’re not directly supporting a candidate or a political party. So effectively the Government is trying to prevent anyone from criticising them before an election.

    This bill has never been about preventing third parties from supporting candidates or parties, it’s always been about stopping third parties pointing out how inept the Government is. That’s why it applies to groups that don’t directly support or oppose any candidates or political parties.

    Reply Simply untrue. Try reading the Bill.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      JR, what do you think about this, footnote on page 3 here:

      http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/162144/Transparency-of-Lobbying-Non-Party-Campaigning-and-Trade-Union-Administration-Bill-Second-Reading-Briefing.pdf

      “The current PPERA rules provide that campaigning at the next UK Parliamentary general election will be regulated from January 2014 onwards, under a combined regulated period that also covers the 2014 European Parliament elections. The Bill provides that the current rules will apply to the period from January to May 2014, and the new rules in the Bill will apply to the period from 23 May 2014 until May 2015.”

      So it’s not a case of special restrictions just for the campaign period for the EU Parliament elections, and then later special restrictions just for the campaign period for the general election, it’s a case of imposing the same restrictions for a continuous period from January 2014 to May 2015.

      How can that possibly be justified in a country which values freedom of speech?

      Reply Politics is now a very regulated business like much else. I just have to make sure I obey the rules.

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        But you’re a paid professional politician supported by a party organisation and better able to cope with the burden of regulation; why should the same burden of regulation be extended to any local group of citizens who’ve come together spontaneously to campaign on some issue?

        Reply During an election I am an unpaid candidate.

    • uanime5
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

      John I did read the bill and even posted section 26(3)(3) in another post. Since you seem to have forgotten what it states here it is again:

      “For election purposes” means for the purpose of or in connection
      with—
      (a)promoting or procuring electoral success at any relevant
      election for—
      (i)one or more particular registered parties,
      (ii)one or more registered parties who advocate (or do not
      advocate) particular policies or who otherwise fall
      within a particular category of such parties, or
      (iii)candidates who hold (or do not hold) particular
      opinions or who advocate (or do not advocate)
      particular policies or who otherwise fall within a
      particular category of candidates, or
      (b)otherwise enhancing the standing—
      (i)of any such party or parties, or
      (ii)of any such candidates,

      So this section clearly shows that the Government is trying to criminalise any criticism of MPs or Government policy during an election year. Perhaps you should actual read this bill John, rather than just rubber stamping anything the whips tells you to support.

      Reply This repeats current rules and does not of course prevent parties and candidates criticising the government! Nor does it means that normal criticisms of government in a democracy are election expenditure!

    • Martin Anderson
      Posted September 7, 2013 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

      I note that frequently JR says “untrue. Try reading the Bill”
      I suggest JR reads the bill himself. It is anti-democratic and very dangerous.
      Actually I don’t care too much about the problems of charities, I care about the rest of us who want to campaign on anything that we care about. This bill is a more extreme version of Tony Blair’s banning of demonstrations within a mile of parliament.
      Perhaps you are trying to kill off organisations like 38 Degrees, who although I don’t always agree with, happen to speak for and give a voice to many of us.
      I personally will not be gagged by this bill whatever the cost.

  11. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted September 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Just listening to the debate on the transparency of lobbying bill. Many seem to be confusing an opinion to lobbying.
    If lobbying was professionalised , then the next move would be degrees in lobbying, however if employers were to lobby on behalf of a firm and the employees then the issues are likely to be changed in intention or context before they are heard

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