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MP: Require charities by law to declare campaigning spend

The prospect of a statute requiring charities to declare publicly how much of their income is spent on political campaigning was raised by the Public Administration Select Committee yesterday.

Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke introduced the issue of political campaigning by charities, stating there was growing public concern about charities that “talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk” – meaning that they do more campaigning than service delivery.

Robert Halfon MP (pictured), also a Conservative, went on to complain about the inconsistency of some think tanks having charitable status while others are denied it. He suggested that the true test of a charity should be “the practical work it does on the ground, helping people”, rather than its public affairs and lobbying work.

Charity lawyer Philip Kirkpatrick from Bates Wells and Braithwaite told the committee that this was “one of the most difficult aspects of charity law” and that the Charity Commission’s existing guidance, CC9, was very good.

Halfon queried whether it might be useful to require charities, by law, to state publicly what proportion of their income is devoted to political campaigning.

Kirkpatrick replied that he thought that was an interesting idea, and suggested it might be inserted into the Sorp or accounting regulations.

But Francesca Quint, a senior partner at Radcliffe Chambers, said it would not always be easy to assess the impact of funds spent on campaigning, and therefore to report on whether it was money well spent.  “Quite a lot of campaigning and lobbying helps to make people aware of problems. These are subtle assessments to make.”

The Public Administration Select Committee was meeting as part of its post-legislative scrutiny inquiry into the Charities Act 2006 and charity regulation.

This article was taken from www.civilsociety.co.uk – http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/finance/news/content/13676/