Monday, December 4, 2023

New Regs and Guidance on Nonprofit Political Speech

A picture of Fish and Chips with the text 'The Best Fish and Chips In London'.

The Charity Commission issued formal and informal administrative guidance last week regarding nonprofit political speech.  Guidance for charities on campaigning and political activity reads like a law student's semester outline, plus Q and A.  The Non-Party Campaigner Code seems higher on the authoritative hierarchy (more like a regulation than a revenue procedure) and requires charities to register as "non-party campaigners" if they spend more than a certain amount on regulated campaign activities in the 12 months leading up to the next election.  Finally, the Commission also issued a new social media guide for charities. This explains what charities should and should not say on social media, particularly as it relates to politics.  That's a whole lot of rules for what words charities can use during an election (and beyond). There should be no more issues, what with all this guidance.  I don't understand why we can't just do the same for 501(c)(4) organizations even if we speak American and they English.  I have only skimmed the materials, but here is part of the announcement:  

A general election is on the horizon and we understand that many of you, as charity leaders and trustees, will see this as a critical moment to speak up for your beneficiaries and highlight your causes. Charities have a proud record of engaging in public debate and campaigning on behalf of their purposes which is entirely legitimate.  Doing so consistently with the legal framework is crucial to public confidence in your political campaigning and to trust in charities more generally. As the chairs of our respective regulators, we want to support charities to understand the law.

The law is clear about the right of charities to campaign. The Charity Commission has been active in affirming this right, as well as the important constraints the law places on charities’ political activities.  Charities can take part in political activity provided it supports their purpose and is in their best interests. However, political activity must not become the reason for a charity’s existence. Charities must also remain independent and must not give their support to a political party. 

I am not sure if that gives me hope, but I'm sure the line between charity and politics will be a bright one after I read the detailed guidance.  I'm almost certain of it.

darryll k. jones

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