The Charity Commission has today released a list of 17 charities, including the Badger Trust, that were complained about during the run-up to May’s general election.
The Commission’s monitoring focused on the period between September 2014 and the general election on 7 May, this reflects the start of the regulated period for electoral law. During this time it dealt with 17 cases which related to concerns about non-compliance by charities.
The Commission said that most issues were dealt with “promptly and without need for escalation within the Commission, indicating that these were not considered serious breaches of guidance”.
A total of 22 separate complaints and issues were raised with the Commission, which were considered carefully but either did not require regulatory action or were related to requests for advice from charities.
The report does not reflect the requirements of charities and other bodies under electoral law, which is enforced by the Electoral Commission.
The Commission has also produced a separate case report into the Badger Trust. It says that concerns were raised about the charity’s promotion of a march opposing the policy of tackling bovine TB by culling badgers, entitled ‘Stop Cameron’s Cull’.
The charity promoted the event on its website and social media, for example by making posters carrying the event title available. The material in question made clear that the charity’s chief executive, a well-known wildlife campaigner, would be speaking at the event.
The Commission was also “notified of concerns about the charity’s campaigning activity, and specifically to positive references made in social media and elsewhere about the charity’s contribution to the manifesto of a particular party”.
The charity was contacted by the Commission, who notified it that “promoting the particular event and promoting a political party’s manifesto were not compatible with the principles” set out in its guidance.
The Badger Trust told the Commission that the material would be removed from its website “as a matter of urgency”. The charity also explained that the event in question “was part of a longstanding series of events that were not organised by the charity itself, and that it would ask the organisers to remove Mr Cameron’s name from all promotional material, though this was not a decision itself could enforce”.
The charity also confirmed that although its chief executive Dominc Dyer would be speaking at the event, he would not be there to represent the charity.
As a result of the Commission’s involvement, the charity disassociated itself with the planned event and published a statement on its website that clarified that “statements of a political nature made by the charity’s chief executive were made in a personal capacity and did not reflect the views of the charity”, and that “the charity does not endorse any political party or its policies and is party-politically neutral”.
Badger Trust responds
Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, told Civil Society News that he felt the Electoral Commission’s Lobbying Act was a “heavy-handed piece of guidance which is restricting civic society’s ability to campaign at a critical time on issues which are important to its supporter base”.
He said that the Badger Trust was set up to protect badgers and if the government sets up a policy to kill badgers, “then clearly we are going to oppose that”. He said that it puts the charity in an “almost impossible position” of not falling into political territory, when one charity supports a policy and another opposes it.
Dyer continued: “We were put in a difficult position, we made our views very clear. We campaigned hard through the election because that is what our supporters expected us to and we were proud of what we achieved because we were one of few charities that did maintain a strong voice, and we made a wider point to society that this shouldn’t be shut down.”
He said in his perspective in the six weeks prior to the election, there was no civil society voice at all and major charities just shut down.
Other complaints revieved
Other charities that were examined by the Commission following complaints included the National Trust, after a member of the public raised questions over the wording in a newspaper article which carried the headline “x party is the only party that recognises rural threat, head of National Trust warns”. The Trust was referred to the Commission’s guidance.
Whizz-Kidz was also notified that a photograph of the charity’s chief executive had appeared in a political party’s manifesto. The charity was advised that the “inclusion of the photograph could potentially give rise to the impression that the charity has associated itself with or endorsed a political party and that this would run counter to our guidance on campaigning and political activity by charities”.
The charity was provided with a copy of the Commission’s campaigning guidance, and Whizz-Kidz accepted the regulatory advices.
The full list is available here.