The Guardian has published footage which appears to show the director general of a charitable think tank offering potential funders access to senior politicians involved in Brexit.
A Labour MP has written to the Charity Commission and the regulator has said it is assessing fresh concerns about the Institute for Economic Affairs. But the charity said it has done nothing wrong and has accused the Guardian of selective reporting.
A joint investigation by the Guardian and Greenpeace recorded IEA director general Mark Littlewood telling an undercover reporter his organisation was in “the Brexit influencing game” and could introduce funders to ministers.
The investigation, undertaken in May and June, records Littlewood claiming the think tank’s trade expert knew Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, David Davis and Liam Fox.
Littlewood was also recorded suggesting potential US donors could shape “substantial content” of the charity’s research.
This investigation has renewed longstanding concerns over whether the think tank is adequately complying with its status as an educational charity.
The Commission reprimanded the charity last year for press releases it sent out after the general election was announced.
In light of the Commission's findings regarding the Legatum Institute Foundation, charity trustee and campaigner Andrew Purkis asked the Commission to look again at the IEA.
Regulator to assess evidence
A spokeswoman for the Commission said the regulator has been “assessing concerns about the Institute of Economic Affairs in recent weeks and can confirm we have an open regulatory compliance case into the charity”.
She said the Commission was yet to receive the footage from Greenpeace or the Guardian but said the evidence would be “assessed carefully in line with our usual processes and considered as part of our ongoing case”.
The footage is expected to be handed to the Commission today.
The spokeswoman added: “Educational charities can play an important role in informing the public. The law is clear, however, that they must do so in a balanced and neutral way.
“There are clear rules for charities regarding political activity that form a key part of both charity law and public expectations.”
'We make no apologies'
Responding to the investigation, Littlewood said the comments of his reported by the Guardian were “selective” and “taken out of context”.
He said: “We make no apology for seeking to raise funds from individuals, foundations and corporations to support our independent research efforts.
“Donors are unable to influence the results and conclusions of our research, which are controlled entirely by our research team, but we greatly welcome their funding, without which we would be unable operate.
“We also make no apologies for seeking to inform and educate politicians at the highest levels of government.
“Indeed, this is a particularly vital audience given the huge issues thrown up by the Brexit process and, in particular, the fact that trade expertise is now so vital in the UK, given we have not operated an independent trade policy since joining the European Union.”
He added: “The IEA is an educational charity which seeks to improve the understanding of free markets across policy-makers, politicians and the wider public.”
Labour MP: 'Must take action immediately'
This morning the Labour MP Jon Trickett called on the Commission to take action about what he described as a "matter of utmost importance" to protect the reputation of the charity sector.
He said it was "vital that the Charity Commission takes action immediately".
I have written to the Charity Commission requesting an investigation into whether the Institute of Economic Affairs broke charity law. There are more questions to answer, not least from ministers, but we must first determine this. The reputation of charities must be protected. pic.twitter.com/u3usnzvx0g— Jon Trickett (@jon_trickett) July 30, 2018