Charities: unleash your press officers

Posted on 30/04/2015

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The Lobbying Act has had a dampening impact on what charities have been able to campaign on during the election. It has succeeded in muzzling the sector from campaigning on anything which could be seen to influence how the electorate vote.

Despite reassurance from industry bodies like the PRCA that campaigners should continue with business as usual and plenty of advice from campaigners and charity umbrella groups, charities have been nervous to campaign.

But this week, in a clarification following a complaint about some of the businesses involved in a small business letter to the Telegraph (the Act applies to companies as well as charities), the Electoral Commission clarified that any media relations activity is not covered by the Act:

Lobbying Act not media

Just another example of how poor, misguided and confusing the regulation of non-party campaigners is in an election. But good news for charities who, with a week to go can unleash their press officers and PRs.

Update: 1st May

The Charity Commission have been in touch with an important note and guidance about charities considering signing a joint letter – and specifically some of the issues charities faced following their names appearing on the Conservative small business letter. Their advice is reprinted below:

Our guidance on campaigning and political activity by charities makes clear that charities may engage in political activities in furtherance of their political purposes. But charities must not give support to a political party or candidate. Charities must stress their independence and ensure that any involvement they have with political parties is balanced.

Signing a letter in support of a political party is not a legitimate activity for a charity. Diverse Cymru took the right course of action in reasserting its independence in a public statement and asking for its name to be removed from the list. We are aware that the Marsha Phoenix Memorial Trust has taken similar action and issued a statement asking themselves to be removed from the list and distancing themselves from the letter. We will be writing to all four charities to establish the facts and expect them to remedy the situation swiftly if they have not done so already. The Commission will decide what further action, if any, is necessary once the charities have responded.

Update: 6th May Electoral Commission

Another important – although slightly confusing – clarification has been requested by the Electoral Commission (see this letter: K Molloy to S Francis 060515). They have said that while signing a letter to a national paper doesn’t count, conducting media events or press conferences resulting in coverage in a newspaper or on a licensed broadcast channel might do:

In your blog, you have advised that “any media relations activity is not covered by the Act”. As we previously advised, regulated campaign activity does not include anything (except adverts) appearing in a newspaper or on a licensed broadcast channel. Thus, a letter published in a newspaper will not be regulated campaign activity.

However, spending on media activities such as press conferences, material published on social media or other media events will be regulated if they meet the purpose and the public test. Further information on media events can be found on page 12 of our guidance. We would be grateful if you could clarify the position in your blog so that campaigners will not misunderstand the position.

Further proof that the whole Lobbying Act is a mess and needs to be repealed in its entirety as soon as possible.

Featured image by https://www.flickr.com/photos/ehaug