The charitable think tank the Institute for Economic Affairs might be registered as a lobbyist after it emerged that Alison White, the government’s lobbying tsar, is to open an investigation into the organisation.
The Charity Commission recently revealed that it has a regulatory compliance case open on the IEA’s political independence, amid allegations that the charity offered US donors access to ministers in exchange for donations.
Footage from the Greenpeace-backed investigations unit Unearthed appears to show Mark Littlewood, director general of the IEA, offering to help US businessmen alter import regulations in the UK after Brexit.
The IEA said in a statement yesterday that it made "no apology" for seeking to raise funds and denied that donors could influence the charity’s reports.
Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, has written to the Charity Commission calling for a "full and proper investigation" of the IEA’s activities.
His letter says that he wants any investigation to focus on whether the IEA’s activities go beyond its stated charitable aims, the alleged solicitation of donors to support research they have a vested interest in and whether those donors have the ability to influence what the charity’s reports say.
In a column for The Guardian newspaper, Trickett said the commission had been "too timid" in standing up to government and the lobbying act was weak.
In its manifesto for the 2017 general election, the Labour Party said it would repeal the lobbying act and replace it with a "tougher statutory register of lobbyists".
Trickett’s article said that at the Labour Party conference in September he hoped to reveal policies "that will fundamentally transform politics in this country, severely restricting the political influence of big money and freeing up civil society".
Francis Ingham, director general of the trade body the Public Relations and Communications Association, backed the idea of a "truly inclusive" lobbying register, including all third-party lobbyists, trade unions and think tanks.
"Think tanks play a vibrant and vital part in the political process," Ingham said. "But recent coverage simply adds to the mistaken belief that somehow the lobbying process is unethical and broken. It is neither.
"What most certainly is broken is the model of the current statutory register, as determined by the lobbying act of 2014. By excluding all in-house lobbyists and triggering registration only when a select group of policymakers are lobbied, the result is that a tiny percentage of lobbyists and lobbying organisations are included on the statutory register. And those very narrow boundaries reduce public trust in lobbying."