The Coalition’s Lobbying act has largely succeeded in scaring charities in not speaking out on behalf of vulnerable people in the run up to the election, a report by the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement has found.
The Lobbying act obliges charities and other non-governmental organisations to register if they are planning to spend more than £20,000 – including staff time – on campaigning activities during the run up to the election which could possibly influence the way people vote. There is then a strict limit on how much money may be spent.
The rules apply even if the campaigning is entirely non-party political. Where two or more organisations mount a joint campaign they must jointly remain within the cost limits, further limiting how much they can spend.
So, for example, campaigns relating to food banks, homelessness or benefits cuts would all be likely to fall within the terms of the Lobbying Act.
As a result of uncertainty about the law, fear of getting caught up in huge amounts of costly administration and concerns about being targeted by politicians many charities are remaining silent during the election period.
One charity which wished to remain anonymous told the commission:
“We are re-considering our usual manifesto activity leading up to the election.
“Although none of it is intended to be – or has ever been – party political, there is now a risk that certain politicians will try to make examples of anything we do and try to harm us financially or harm our reputation.
“For this reason we have to be careful about what we say. Even though the issues are very serious and we need to be hard-hitting in our communications to all politicians.
“Anything we say is now at risk of being wilfully misinterpreted.”
The Commission on Civil society has recommended that the Lobbying Act should be repealed.
You can download a copy of Impact of the Lobbying Act on civil society and democratic engagement here.