Campaigning at election time – What you need to know
Don’t let election rules stop your DDPO campaigning
Guidelines for Charitable Campaigning
The Charity Commission has made clear that campaigning is a legitimate activity for charities. This remains the case during elections. During elections, therefore, Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations (DDPOs) should continue their essential work as usual.
The law states that charities remain politically neutral and refrain from endorsing or funding political candidates or parties. Additionally, charities should ensure that they are viewed as politically independent by the general public.
Trustees should make sure their charity is not used to express the political views of individual trustees or staff members.
Adhering to Charity Law
Charities must comply with charity law when campaigning during elections. Following the Charity Commission’s guidance can help avoid legal issues. Charities can engage in political activities if they align with their charitable objectives and are not their primary function. However, DDPOs must not endorse political parties or candidates.
A charity’s policy position on a particular issue may coincide with, or be more or less similar to, that of one of the political parties. In this case, it is entirely acceptable for the charity to continue to campaign on that issue and to advocate its policy as long as it makes clear its independence from any political party advocating the same policy and does nothing to encourage support for any political party.
In any publicity material generated (including via print, media interviews, social media and websites), a charity may promote its views on issues related to its purposes and activities. However, the charity must steer clear of explicitly comparing its views (favourably or otherwise) with those of the political parties or candidates participating in the election.
For example, suppose a housing charity supports building 100,000 new homes. In that case, it can outline the housing policies of each party, including how many new homes each party is committed to building, but it must not explicitly call on people to vote for one party or another. The critical point is that while charities can attempt to influence public opinion on a particular issue if it furthers or supports their purposes, they must leave it to the electorate to decide how to vote.
A charity may publish candidates’ views in local and national elections where these views relate to the charity’s purposes, and publishing them will raise public interest and debate about the underlying issues. The charity must not encourage support for any particular parties or candidates.
Some charities publish a manifesto to publicise the issues they campaign on, particularly the changes they are calling for on behalf of their beneficiaries. Again, this is acceptable when the charity tries to persuade the political parties to adopt the policies it advocates or to raise the public profile of those issues. It is not acceptable where the intention is to influence voter behaviour. Suppose a political party approaches a charity for permission to refer to the charity in their manifesto; whether in relation to a political party or generally, the charity must refuse the request. This is because of the risk that the charity will be appearing to endorse the political party itself.
Charities must not support or oppose a political party or candidate.
Charities must not donate funds to political parties.
Charities are free to invite candidates and political party representatives to public meetings about issues the charity is campaigning, for example, by inviting candidates to debate those issues. Trustees must not encourage support for any political party. One way of ensuring their charity does not do that is to invite representatives from as broad a political spectrum as possible.
However, inviting candidates from a broad spectrum can be challenging in practice. It does not mean that all parties have to be represented every time a charity does any work which engages with political parties. The trustees should decide based on whether such engagement would further or hinder the interests of the charity. For example, an event may be more manageable and focused if all minority parties are excluded.
If the charity is advised (for example, by the police) that the presence of a particular candidate at an event will create a risk of disorder, that would be a good reason for not inviting them. It is also open to charities to decide not to invite a representative from a political party which advocates policies which are in contravention of the charity’s purposes, or whose presence or views are likely to alienate the charity’s supporters. However, a charity must have very good reasons for not inviting a mainstream political party.
Charities can approach the candidates in an election, setting out the charity’s concerns and asking for their opinions to promote debate. However, charities should be especially wary of associating or becoming associated in the public’s minds with a particular candidate or political party. Where the charity supports a popular cause, candidates may see a benefit to themselves in being seen to support the charity. Still, the charity should be careful to ensure that it is not seen as reciprocating that support.
Charities must never support particular candidates, even if those candidates belong to a range of political parties.
Charities must not assist candidates with their election campaigns, financially or otherwise. Individual members of a charity may, of course, choose to assist any candidate personally. Still, officers and employees of a charity should not use their position in any campaigning activities in such a way as to suggest that the charity endorses any candidate.
Suppose an employee is directly engaged in a charity’s campaigning activity and has personal involvement with one particular political party during the general election. In that case, they should declare this to their employer (the charity). The trustees should then consider this potential conflict of interest and assess the risks for the charity in terms of the reputation and legal liability of the person taking on both roles simultaneously.