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Loosely worded bill could cripple charity campaigns

Ah those politicians, they do love their vaguely worded bills don't they? We've had SOPA and PIPA before with their thinly veiled restrictions on freedoms and now there's a new one, though admittedly in a different sort of vein. Known as the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, it's being rushed through without consultation and many organisations and legal entities are worried, that it could potentially cripple charitable campaigns and doesn't target the source of the problems it's designed to combat.

According to government toadies, the bill is designed to make trade union funding more transparent and to create a statutory register for lobbyists. Nothing seems to problematic with that, but it's the way it's worded and the way it's been introduced that is worrying people.

First of all, it was introduced on the last day of parliament before recess, meaning it has bypassed several consultative phases – which should set off warning flags for anyone that's campaigned against any of the anti-internet-freedom bills of the past couple of years. On top of that, the bill makes it illegal for non-political parties to spend any more than £390,000 on campaigning any issues during an election period. The government has stated that this is to stop rich millionaires from dumping money into charities and other groups and having them campaign on their behalf.

Detractors however have pointed out that not only does this not happen in the UK, as people can fund party campaigns directly, but that this would prevent charities and other lobby groups from standing on any issues as effectively during an election period. It essentially turns the election season into one that is dominated by campaigns for the political parties themselves.

Wired spoke with several people who are against the bill, including anti-fascist and racism charity, Hope Not Hate, which said that if this bill were to be passed, as much of 70 per cent of its planned expenditure across the UK would have to be halted.

Hope not Hate has begun terming this bill, a “gag order”. 

MP Chloe Smith took a swing at arguing the case for the bill, saying that: “Charities will still be able to give support to specific policies advocated by political parties if it would help achieve their charitable purposes. The Bill does not regulate attempts to engage with the policy of any political party, having a view on any aspect of the policy of a party, or any attempt to influence the policy of a party. Such activity would only be captured if it was promoting the electoral success of, or enhancing the standing of, political parties or candidates.”

The problem with this, is that with electoral issues often hotly debated, with parties picking a stance of against or for, more often than not, campaigning in either direction could be considered as enhancing the standing of a political candidate.

Legal experts have also rallied against the bill, suggesting that once again, it's the loose wording and vaguery that causes problem with the law. If it isn't in black and white, the wiggle room could allow for all sorts of nasty circumstances to crop up, something that most are keen to avoid. Even the Electoral Commission isn't backing this one, suggesting that it doesn't matter what MPs say about the new bill, whether they believe it will affect charities or not, it's the wording of the law that matters and as it stands, it looks like it could cripple many charities during the run up to an election.

If you want to read the specific part of the bill that's got people's hackles up (or the whole thing if you're an exciting type of person) then you can do so here.

KitGuru Says: It also seems rather ridiculous that this has been the focus of the bill, when national Newspapers are allowed to declare their undying allegiance to certain parties and policies without reproach. This would be fine if these publications were a bit more trivial, but when they purport to report the news, shouldn't they simply cover the campaign instead of siding with one part of it? 

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