Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover and Deal, has called on the Charity Commission to tighten its guidelines on political campaigning by charities.
In a blog post on the Conservative Home website, Elphicke discusses the regulator’s response to his complaint that the charitable think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research had supported the Labour Party through the launch of the document The Condition of Britain.
The IPPR’s report, which was launched by Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, attracted widespread media coverage and was described by the IPPR as "offering a comprehensive assessment of the state of British society after the crash and setting out an ambitious programme of social renewal in these tough times".
An operational compliance case report, published by the Charity Commission last month, concluded that the charity had by this means "exposed itself to the perception that it supported the development of Labour Party policy".
Elphicke’s blog, published on Friday, says that the matter has damaged the charitable sector and calls for a clarification on the charitable status of think tanks such as the IPPR.
"There should be a tightening of the rules on the politicisation of charities," writes Elphicke. "The Charity Commission’s guidance on political campaigning should be strengthened."
He says it should not have been necessary for the commission to step in and "censure Labour and the IPPR for their behaviour. They should both have known better."
Elphicke continues: "The IPPR was once known as Tony Blair’s favourite think tank. But that’s no excuse for creating the perception they were using charitable funds to work for a political party. Behaviour like that warps the independence of charities and undermines the political process. But more importantly, it diverts funds from a charity’s real purpose, which is to help people in need."
Paula Sussex, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society and Volunteering in November that the regulator would review its guidance on charity campaigning, called CC9, after the general election.
But the commission swiftly issued a clarification saying that Sussex had not committed to a formal review of CC9. "We would like to reassure charities that our guidance on campaigning stands," the clarification said. "Charities can and should feel confident in following CC9 when they plan their campaigning and political activity ahead of the general election.
"Findings from our election case work, along with the impact of the lobbying act, will have to be reviewed after the election. Such a review, and the consideration of other issues relating to the current guidance, may or may not recommend changes to the guidance. If we do consider revisions should be made to CC9, we will say so publicly and consult widely."
Asked to comment on Elphicke’s blog, a spokeswoman for the regulator referred to the statement issued by the regulator after Sussex’s comments in November.