The Lobby Act: Charity and Clarity

The Lobby Act: Charity and Clarity

‘Keep calm and keep campaigning’ is the catchy strap line currently being used by the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) to describe how we should all be preparing for the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014.

The big question – how will the Act work in practice – is still yet to be fully answered, despite the act coming into effect within a few weeks. This has a lot of people on edge, not least the big charities who are concerned that their largely innocent activities may soon fall foul of the law.

I recently attended a PRCA event on the topic, where I heard first hand from a large children’s charity what they have been doing to get themselves ready. From what the charity told us, the Electoral Commission itself seems unsure how certain aspects of the act would work in practice, in particular at what point a charity concern becomes a political lobbying campaign.

The consensus seems to be that if a charity has been campaigning on an issue for a substantial period of time, they will not fall foul of the Act if a politician, in the run up to an election, decides that he or she cares about that issue as well. This should go some way to reassure charities whose big policy asks may well become the political footballs of 2015.

The next big issue discussed was that of registration. Many charities will not be entering the new statutory lobbying register, for fear of giving the impression that they do, in fact, intend to influence the outcome of an election.

Instead, they will be mitigating risk of being hauled in front of the commission by ramping up bureaucracy across the organisation. Meetings will be minuted down to the last word and paper trails filed so expertly that they can be immediately at hand if their actions are ever questioned.

There is some concern that some charities may begin to self-censor, with organisations shying away from working in coalitions or making big statements in order to play it safe. There seems to be a feeling amongst charities that no one wants to be the one who pushes the boundaries of the Act.

Since the event, the PRCA Not-For-Profit and Charity Group has helpfully written to the Electoral Commission with ten key questions covering definitions of what the act actually covers, the extent of work covered, and how organisations can ensure they are complying with the regulations. While the Act will need to be up and running for a while before we know exactly how it will work, there is a chance to put everyone’s minds at rest, for now at least.

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