Public funding of campaigning charities 'subverts the democratic process'

A report, written by Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs, says government departments should be banned from funding charities that lobby

Christopher Snowdon
Christopher Snowdon

Public funding of campaigning charities "subverts the democratic process" and government departments should be banned from funding charities that engage in lobbying, a new report says.

The report, published today, was written by Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, the think tank that in 2012 published Sock Puppets: How the Government Lobbies Itself and Why, a report that was criticised as at the time for being "woefully short-sighted" by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

The Sock Doctrine: What Can Be Done about State-funded Political Activism? provides further evidence of campaigning by charities that receive public funding and gives a number of recommendations for its prevention.

It says the Cabinet Office "should notify all departments that statutory funding is not to be used to fund political activity of any kind". It says departmental managers responsible for issuing funds to the private or third sectors should provide written confirmation "that departmental grants have not been, and cannot be, used to fund political advocacy, lobbying or campaigning".

And it recommends that ministers submit written statements "when providing a grant to any third sector or private organisation involved in political campaigning". This was recommended by the Public Administration Select Committee in its 2013 report The Role of the Charity Commission and ‘Public Benefit’: Post-legislative Scrutiny of the Charities Act 2006, although Snowdon extends this beyond just charities.

The think tank's report also calls for the Charity Commission to produce updated guidance on political campaigning and says charities should be required to publish how much of their income comes from statutory sources.

Charities receiving public funds should also be required to report what proportion of their income is used on campaigning and lobbying, and their trustees should have to write to the relevant department to guarantee this money is not used for those purposes.

The report responds to criticism of its Sock Puppets report made by Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO. The new report says: "It is not contested that privately funded charities should be free to campaign on any issue at any time. However, whilst sharing the sector’s concerns about free speech, we disagree with Etherington when he says that ‘campaigning is a legitimate activity central to the work of many charities and voluntary organisations, regardless of whether they receive money from the state’."

A spokeswoman for the IEA, which is a charity, said it was funded exclusively from private donations.

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