Charities will have been waiting for the Electoral Commission’s guidance to help organisations comply with the new stricter rules on campaigning in the run up to an election. There is no doubt that the guidance is recommended reading for all charities that carry out campaign activity.
The guidance includes 16 documents, 3 factsheets and an expert paper (on splitting campaign spending). It is comprehensive ranging from providing an overview for non-party campaigners to details on how to register and manage campaign expenditure. As part of this guidance, the Electoral Commission has published specific guidance on “Charities and campaigning”. It should be noted that this is intended as an overview and is not a substitute for reading the other detailed guidance documents. Nevertheless, it is a good starting point for charities to get to grips with the issues facing them and does direct charities to the more detailed guidance notes.
The overriding impression from the specific guidance on “Charities and campaigning” is the need for careful consideration by charities in assessing whether they are carrying out “regulated campaign activity” and the need for excellent record keeping to assist charities in assessing their obligations and complying with them.
Under the guidance, it is possible to carry out “regulated campaign activity” but not meet the thresholds to be registered and regulated by the Electoral Commission. Unfortunately this does not mean that those charities do not need to worry about the new rules at all. Whether or not a charity is regulated by the Electoral Commission, the maximum amount that can be spent on regulated campaign activity in a parliamentary constituency in the run up to an election is £9,750. In addition, if a charity is not registered (or is not eligible to register) a charity cannot spend more than £20,000 (in England) on regulated campaign activity. This means that charities still need to keep track of the activities they are carrying out and their spending in order to check that they do not exceed the thresholds and/or be ready to register and report to the Electoral Commission if they need to.