The Charity Commission has said that during the General Election it dealt with 41 cases relating to charity campaigning and political activity and took action six times.
In a report published today the Commission outlines some key themes from its engagement with charities during the election period including some cases where it concluded that no rules had been breached.
Action taken by the Commission includes directing charities to make it clear that they are separate from campaigning arms, and insisting a charity’s email signature be changed as it was encouraging people to support a trustee who was standing as an independent candidate.
Some 28 cases resulted from the regulator identifying issues and 13 came after charities sought advice from the regulator.
Explicit support for political parties
The report highlights three cases where charities appeared to provide explicit support for candidates and political parties and it contacted charities to prevent the material being recirculated or removed.
- The Beneficial Foundation – a Conservative Party leaflet in Portsmouth featured the charity’s chief executive
- Unity Group Wales – displayed posters for a Labour candidate who was a trustee of the charity
- The National Council of Hindu Temples – the Commission received complaints that the charity issued an email appearing to support the Conservative Party.
The Commission also said it considered using its official warning power against the sole trustee of Homeschool Social Enterprise, who was standing as an independent candidate, because “ the charity’s email signature already encouraged people to support him as an independent candidate, and that there was a section on the charity’s website dedicated to his candidature”.
The email signature was changed and the link to the website was removed. The Commission has also told the charity to appoint more trustees.
Other issues highlighted by the Commission include visits from prospective parliamentary candidates, publishing commentary or analysis, activity by individuals, parties using the charity’s research and links to non-charitable organisations.
The Commission gave three examples of looking into charities which hosted visits, including Leanne Wood launching Plaid Cymru’s manifesto at Valley Kids, and in all three concluded that there had been no breach of the law because the visits were either a commercial arrangement or had been arranged prior to the election and were about other things.
After complaints about the Hope Not Hate Charitable Trust in relation to tweets posted by staff at Hope Not Hate Limited the charity added a disclaimer to its twitter feed.
Scope sought advice after some of its research was used by the Labour Party. The Commission “advised the charity that the trustees should assess the reputational risk to their charity’s independence and consider how they deal with this”.
The Commission also summarised its engagement with the think tank, the Institute for Economic Affairs, which it had told to amend some of its commentary.
David Holdsworth, chief operating officer at the Charity Commission, said: “I’m pleased that the team has been able to work with charities in the run-up to the general election to increase understanding of the rules around campaigning and that any issues we identified were addressed quickly to protect charities’ independence.
“Charities have a strong and proud tradition of campaigning and being at the forefront of social policy. Many charities can and did find practical valid ways to engage in beneficiary-focused and effective campaigning and political activity in the run-up to this general election. However, our report does illustrate that some basic silly mistakes that could have been avoided by reading and following our guidance continue to be made by charities.”