Regulator asks six charities about their role in AV referendum campaign

Move by Charity Commission follows complaints by No to AV that they are supporting the 'yes' campaign

No to AV campaign
No to AV campaign

The Charity Commission has written to a total of six charities after receiving a complaint from the No to AV campaign that they had supported the campaign for a yes vote in the forthcoming referendum on the alternative vote electoral system.

Third Sector reported last week that the commission had asked British Muslims for Secular Democracy for more information about the use of its logo on the website of the pro-AV group Take Back Parliament. The charity declined to comment, saying it was seeking legal advice.

It has now emerged that No to AV has complained to the commission about the use of the logos of four other charities on the website - the Fawcett Society, Friends of the Earth, the umbrella body Bassac and the think tank the New Economics Foundation, all of which have received letters from the commission.

No to AV has also complained that the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust had funded Power2010, an organisation that has campaigned in favour of a yes vote in the referendum, which will take place on 5 May. The trust has also received a letter from the commission asking for more information.

Stephen Pittam, secretary of the JRCT, said the No to AV campaign’s allegations that it had supported the pro-AV campaign were unfounded: "These allegations are ill-informed, outrageous and possibly mischievous. Our funding for Power2010 ended in February 2010, long before there was talk of a referendum on the alternative vote."

Several of the charities are understood to be planning to defend their decisions to support the campaign, on the grounds that the promotion of involvement in democracy is among their charitable objects.

A spokesman for the NEF said: "The letter from the commission says certain charities can campaign in exceptional circumstances. Since we have the promotion of democracy in our constitution, we should be all right."

He said that when the charity agreed to allow its logo to be used, the commission had not published any guidance on charities and referendums.

Craig Bennett, policy and campaigns director for Friends of the Earth, said: "We have received the letter and are grateful to the commission for raising their concerns with us. We will respond when we have thoroughly examined the questions raised."

Bassac and the Fawcett Society declined to comment.

The Charity Commission guidance Charities, Elections and Referendums, published last month, says: "Where the impact on the work of the charity is very indirect or uncertain, the trustees will find it difficult to justify campaigning for a particular outcome.

"The key question for the trustees is exactly how such activity would be an effective way of promoting the objects of the charity."

A spokesman for the No to AV campaign said the organisation was trying to make sure charities were not in breach of the law. It had written to the commission to seek clarification of the rules on charities and referendums, he said.

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