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New Legislation Could Stop Some NonProfits From Issue Campaigning

Sun Jul 25 2021

Upcoming election legislation could deter many charities from running issue-based campaigns in the run up to elections

New provisions in the upcoming Election Bill, currently passing through Parliament, will include requirements for more organisations to register with the Electoral Commission if they plan on engaging in any kind of ‘issue-based’ campaigning.

The bill will introduce for organisations to register as ‘low-tier’, non-party affiliated  campaigners if they rack up more than £10,000 (previously this was set at £20,000) of regulated spending in a period before a general election. The bill will apply to anywhere within the UK.

 

The bill also seeks to restrict any overseas organisations from getting involved in elections by banning non-UK based campaign groups from incurring any kind of regulated spending over £700.

 

The bill will also see new transparency rules brought into effect to cover digital campaigning content where it could reasonably be held that the content was meant to influence the public to either support or oppose a particular political party, candidate, office holder or a referendum.

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We are concerned that these changes are likely to exacerbate the ‘chilling effect’ we have seen with charity and non-profit campaigning following changes made by the lobbying act in 2014. Lord Hodgson reviewed the impact of those changes after the 2015 general election, and recommended a suite of changes to ensure that greater transparency around the influence of money in election campaigns does not create a disproportionate regulatory burden for campaigners. Rather than using this bill as an opportunity to implement Hodgson’s package of reforms, the government is increasing the burden on campaigners. Although the new lower-tier registration does not carry many of the more onerous compliance requirements that come with full registration, campaigners will be required to comply with additional transparency requirements in relation to online campaigning material and regulated donations. Perhaps most importantly, charities may become more reticent to campaign in the run-up to elections, due to concerns that public registration with the Electoral Commission will create an incorrect perception of party political bias.

Simon Steeden – Partner, Bates Wells Law Firm, NonProfit & Social Enterprise Dept.

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Sun Jul 25 2021

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