With Theresa May sounding the starting gun for a snap General Election, Part 2 of The Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 will come into force almost as soon as the formal process of calling a Election is complete.
If organisations – private and charity alike – spend more than £20,000 in England or £10,000 in the rest of the UK on “regulated activities”, they must register with the Electoral Commission as non-party campaigners.
Once registered they cannot spend more than £319,800 in England, £55,400 in Scotland, £44,000 in Wales, £30,800 in Northern Ireland or £9,750 in any one constituency on regulated activities in the regulated period before elections.
The single most important piece of advice is that an organisation’s “business as usual” communications is NOT regulated by the act. In response to the PRCA Charity & Not For Profit Group’s questions during the last General Election, the Electoral Commission advised:
We consider it highly unlikely that awareness-raising of service delivery will meet the purpose test.
But assuming that many organisations may well want to campaign actively during the election, here are five initial tips on how campaigners can stick within the law and still achieve their communications objectives:
- Stay focused
If you have a campaign underway, it is highly unlikely to be covered by the Act.
In fact, the Electoral Commission advised that “if the campaign was not previously regulated, your subsequent campaign activity is unlikely to become regulated campaign activity simply because a party has changed its position [and now supports your cause] unless, for example, you change your approach as a result of their support and start publicising their support for your campaign.”
- Stay neutral (or as neutral as you can be)
One of the basic principles of good campaigning during an election has always been to try to secure cross party support for your cause or issue.
The Lobbying Act makes that even more important.
If your cause is actively supported by politicians on all sides (and you avoid publicly shaming people who don’t support you), it is impossible to see how the Act could apply.
- Stay within the Law
At the heart of the Lobbying Act are what are called its “purpose” and “public” tests. These are the way you can see if your activity is covered. If the purpose of your activity…
…can reasonably be regarded as intended to influence voters to vote for or against political parties or categories of candidates, including political parties or categories of candidates who support or do not support particular policies or issues.
It will be covered by the ‘Purpose’ test.
In addition, additional types of tactics might also be covered by the ‘Public’ test if the activity is…
…also aimed at, [can be] seen or heard by, or involve the public.
- Stay clever
It is worth noting that not all tactics are covered by the Act. Among the more ridiculous rulings are that press conferences are covered by the Act, but doing media interviews aren’t. So, just don’t call a press conference.
The Electoral Commission also commented that they view “in many cases, the costs of posting material on a social media site, for example sending a tweet or updating a Facebook page, will be negligible.”
And equally, volunteer time IS NOT covered by the Act (but time to train volunteers to stage events is covered, so be careful).
- Stay on top of time
If your campaign does meet the test and is regulated (or is found at a later date to be subject to the Act), you need to ensure that adequate records are kept of time and expenses spent on regulated work. You can read more about how the Electoral Commission advise time is tracked in this pdf (note, it may be subject to change for the 2017 election).
The Electoral Commission is responsible for issuing formal guidance on what campaigning is allowed during a General Election period and the advice (which is non-legal in nature) contained on this page should be read alongside any formal guidance issued.