EDITORIAL: Public trust is at risk in attack on Mariam appeal

Lucy Maggs

There has been a great furore in the press over the Mariam Appeal set up by Labour MP George Galloway. The Charity Commission is currently evaluating whether it can investigate the organisation following a complaint that it might be using charitable funds for a non-charitable purpose.

Although the organisation is not actually a registered charity, the public is unlikely to consider the finer legal points and the perception will be that this is just another charity scandal.

Media coverage of the Mariam Appeal has, of course, also dragged up the past investigation into War on Want when Galloway was a general secretary.

Although opinion polls in the past have shown that public trust of charities is high, stories like this cannot fail to do some damage and a lack of trust would affect fundraising.

Galloway is a controversial figure and his activities undoubtedly make great news. Whether his libel case is successful or not, the story will blow over, but it would be a shame if the long-term loser is the sector's reputation.

The case of the Mariam Appeal has also raised a regulatory issue. Although it isn't a registered charity, any organisations raising money for a charitable purpose fall under the jurisidiction of the commission. Whether the organisation was raising charitable funds or not is currently being considered by the commission and without knowing the ins and outs of the organisation's activities, it is hard to judge whether it will find it has grounds to investigate.

But if it doesn't, the question is raised that if an organisation is not a registered company and does not have a charitable purpose, then who makes sure the money is actually being spent on the cause? The answer is no-one.

In this case, it seems very little money was raised from the British public for the appeal. But it is likely there are a number of organisations that fall into this loophole and are spending public money with no regulation whatsoever.

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