Regulation with Rosie: political campaigning

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on political campaigning.

The recent bank holiday washout meant I spent a lot of time in front of the TV and reading newspapers, which gave me fresh insight into how advertisers seduce us into spending cash. Ad campaigns seem to have a freedom to bombard us with messages that many charities must envy.

And yet, I suspect charities are better off. The world is hardly crying out for a new campaign marketing shampoo, but people feel genuinely concerned when they perceive charities being restricted in their freedom to campaign. There is a will for charities to engage with the public, push boundaries and raise awareness.

Many charities still feel restricted by the legal barriers to political campaigning, but I wonder if there is some confusion about what they can do. Many limitations have nothing to do with charity law. The Make Poverty History campaign, for example, got the thumbs-up in charity law, whatever the broadcasting rules said.

Self-censorship would be a pity. Charities are often uniquely placed to campaign and advocate on behalf of their beneficiaries, and their work achieves vital change.

To reduce the element of self-censorship, the Charity Commission has put a guide on its website to remind charities of their scope for political activity and campaigning. The main thing to consider is whether such activity furthers charitable purposes or not. It's also wise to consider risks and the chances of success.

There are actually relatively few restrictions on political activity or campaigning. From campaigning for improved human rights abroad to lobbying MPs here, as long as any activity furthers charitable purposes, it can be done.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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