Charity reprimanded by regulator after it promoted a trustee's national assembly election campaign

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland has revealed the case in a report about charities' campaigning activities published before the latest round of elections next month

Charity Commission for Northern Ireland
Charity Commission for Northern Ireland

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland reprimanded a charity after its chief executive used the charity’s social media to promote a trustee’s national assembly election campaign, a new report reveals.

The CCNI said a social media page operated by the unnamed charity sought donations, support and publicity for the 2016 election campaign of one of its trustees through posts signed on behalf of the charity by its chief executive, who was the trustee’s election agent.

The regulator revealed it had visited the charity and issued regulatory guidance in a report published yesterday reminding charities of the law surrounding political campaigning ahead of the Northern Irish National Assembly elections in March.

It says one particular post at the charity in question had prompted the guidance to be issued, but the commission was satisfied that no charity resources had been misapplied and that potential conflicts of interest were being appropriately managed.

"The charity trustee acknowledged they had erred in failing to appropriately monitor their social media output and that enthusiasm by staff and volunteers for their campaign had overrun good sense," the report says.

The report, focusing on issues raised during the 2016 elections, explains that the guiding principle of charity law in terms of campaigning, political activity and elections is that charities should be independent of party politics, and seen to be so.

It examines other cases in which charities had endorsed candidates. In one, a charity expressed gratitude to and support for a particular candidate; in another, charity volunteers had put up posters supporting a candidate who was also a trustee of the charity, and photographs of them doing so had been published on the charity’s social media.

In the first case, the charity said it had been moving offices and had failed to monitor all social media and email output during the move. In the second, the trustees admitted they were unaware of the relevant guidance on political campaigning.

Frances McCandless, chief executive of the CCNI, said: "Charities cannot be established for political purposes and their interaction with politics must only be as a way to advance their charitable purposes.

"The release of this report demonstrates not only the situations that charities must avoid but also the commission’s determination to ensure that the charity sector remains independent, as the public expect."

She urged trustees to read the regulator’s guidance on elections, plus the Electoral Commission’s guidance on political campaigning in the run-up to an election. 

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