Taxpayers' Alliance denies 'political' research claims

Complaints against the campaigning body are being assessed by the Charity Commission

Campaigning group the Taxpayers' Alliance has denied a claim in today's Guardian that it is using its charitable arm to fund politically motivated research.

The TPA, which campaigns for lower taxes and better value for taxpayers, set up a charitable arm in 2007 with the object of advancing public education about taxation, public policy, applied economics and political science.

The charity was originally called the Taxpayers' Alliance Research Trust, but it was changed to the Politics and Economics Research Trust

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the charity, admitted the change had been instigated by the Charity Commission.

"The commission urged us to make the name change and to fund other groups through the trust, not just TPA research," Elliott told Third Sector. He declined to say what non-TPA research the trust had funded.

Elliott said the trust was very careful to make sure the projects it funded were "balanced and open" and "well within the remit of an education charity". He said that "more partisan" research would not be funded by the trust.

He pointed out that other campaigning groups, such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International, had charitable vehicles to fund their research and confirmed that none of the TPA's directors were on the charity's board.

This morning's Guardian quoted former deputy prime minister John Prescott saying "This body ought not be be subsidised to pursue its political goals."  It also quoted Labour politicians saying that it was hypocritical of a body that advocated lower taxes to accept charitable tax breaks.

Elliott said: "Tax relief for donations is very different from receiving a grant from government. Gift Aid is there to promote philanthropy and we would like it to go further, like in the US."

Claims that the TPA and the trust were linked to the Conservative Party "couldn't be further from the truth", said Elliott. The complaints about the trust were a symptom of the coming general election, he said.

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said the commission was talking to the charity to find out more about its relationship with the TPA.

"We are now considering the information we have received to assess our regulatory role, given the concerns that have been raised," she said. "We have clear guidance for charities on campaigning and political activities and it is important that charities work within this."

Elliott said the feedback the charity had received from the commission during this assessment had been very good. "And as far as we are concerned, the assessment is going well," he said.

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