The Directory of Social Change is calling on voluntary sector organisations to write to government ministers and urge them to support an amendment to the lobbying bill that would exclude charities from key parts of the legislation.
The DSC has sent emails to about 70,000 voluntary sector professionals who receive its e-newsletters, urging them to write letters raising concerns about the bill to Andrew Lansley, the Leader of the House of Commons, the minister responsible for the bill, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the Liberal Democrat peer responsible for taking the bill through the House of Lords, and their MPs
The DSC suggested that the letters should detail charities’ concerns about the bill and call for an amendment tabled last month by Lord Phillips of Sudbury to be adopted that would exclude charities from key parts of the legislation.
Earlier this month, Lord Wallace announced a pause of almost six weeks so that the debate in the Lords on part 2 of the bill, which includes measures that charities are most concerned about, would be delayed until 16 December.
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill contains proposals to reduce the spending limit for campaigns by any third-party organisation in the run-up to and during elections on campaigns that "could reasonably be regarded" to favour particular parties or candidates. The spending threshold for non-party campaigners to have to register with the Electoral Commission would be lowered and the limit on total spending would be cut from £988,500 to £390,000. Earlier this month, however, the government promised to "substantially" raise the proposed figures.
Charities are concerned the legislation would adversely affect their campaigning activities in the run up to elections.
Lord Phillips’s amendment was among those made on 24 October, before the pause, and is yet to be debated. He proposed that clause 26, which deals with third-party expenditure, should be amended to say "except a body which is a charity".
Jay Kennedy, director of policy and research at the DSC, said the government’s amendments had so far failed to resolve underlying flaws in the bill.
"Charities are already regulated by the Charity Commission," he said. "Charity law is already clear that no charity can have political purposes, or pursue their charitable objectives by politically partisan means.
"We don’t need this other system of being administered by the Electoral Commission as well."
Kennedy said that between now and 16 December, the DSC was trying to get people to contact their MPs and any members of the Lords they knew, in the hope of influencing their thinking going into the debate on part 2 of the bill, when further amendments will be discussed.
A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said the government had allowed additional time for discussion with campaigning groups before the bill was next debated in the House of Lords and it would be premature to comment on any specific policies before these discussions had concluded.
He said that the government was determined to bring greater transparency and accountability to the political system through the bill, and welcomed the opportunity to discuss the reforms with the DSC and other parties.