Hello. I am David Clarke and welcome to the Turcan Connell video cast on issues for charities. I’m here with Turcan Connell experts, Simon Mackintosh and Gavin McEwan. It’s 2015 and we’re facing a raft of elections and a possible referendum and charities, as campaigning organisations, are going to possibly want to air some views in relation to the debates that are coming up. Simon, I’m wondering, are charities actually allowed to engage in electoral campaigning?
Well, yes they are and there was some very useful guidance issued by the Scottish charity regulator, OSCR, in the run up to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. And some charities are campaigning organisations and the OSCR guidance said that what you need to do is look at your constitution and, first of all, make sure that campaigning or political activity is not excluded by the constitution. Some charity constitutions do specifically prohibit getting involved in political activities and, if so, that’s the end of it. But those that allow it, what is important to remember is that party-political purposes are entirely excluded under Scottish charity law. So, there can be campaigning for particular policy outcomes and OSCR envisaged the possibility that charities might wish to campaign for a Yes or a No outcome, when that could be clearly related to the charity’s purposes, but you cannot advocate, as a charity, support for any particular political party.
Gavin, do charities need to register if they want to campaign in the election?
Charities may have to register with the electoral commission and the best starting point for charities, who want to campaign, is to have a look at the guidance that the commission publishes. There’s a very helpful flowchart there that will guide charities through the process of deciding whether or not they do have to register. The kinds of questions charities should ask themselves are; are they going to fund campaigning activity? What kind of activity are they actually going to be funding? Is that funded activity intended to influence voters? And, in Scotland, will they be spending more than ten thousand pounds on that activity? And if the answer to all of those is ‘yes’, they are likely to have to register.
Simon, what are the issues that charities might want to be talking about?
There’s a range of issues they might wish to air, covering policy areas that are the responsibility of the Westminster and Holyrood parliaments and might come up in a potential European referendum. But the underlying principles are; think about the impact on your charity’s purposes and consider whether some sort of engagement in the political process would help advance charities’ purposes. If so, then you can properly get engaged. You need to think about the impact on your members and supporters, donors and your beneficiary group before doing so, but that’s the thought process that charity trustees need to go through.
Simon, Gavin, thank you very much. For more information on how Turcan Connell can help you with your charity go to turcanconnell.com.