The Lobbying Act has been a controversial issue for charities since its introduction in September 2014.
The purpose of the Lobbying Act was (and is) to prevent campaigning by external bodies on behalf of political parties as a means of avoiding rules on campaign expenditure.
Under the Act, external bodies engaged in campaigning activity fall to be regulated by the Electoral Commission where their spending in relation to campaigning on issues that are associated with political parties exceeds certain limits.
The Act has been criticised (rightfully) for being vague and confusing and back in 2015 I referred to what had been described as the "chilling effect" of the Lobbying Act - it seemed that Act had served only to stifle the valuable campaigning activities carried out by charities due to the uncertainty that it had caused (see: http://www.brabners.com/blogs/charities/charity-commission-kept-busy-during-ge2015-period).
This chilling effect appears to have continued during the lead up to the General Election earlier this year and as discussed in the article below, some 122 charities (including a number of our clients) have written jointly to the Minister for Civil Society asking that proposed reforms be implemented.
The impact of the Lobbying Act on charity campaigning has been enhanced as a result of the snap election earlier this year. Those lobbying against the Lobbying Act perhaps felt they had more time for their concerns to be dealt with but with the potential for a further election over the course of the next few years, it is hoped that steps will be taken to introduce Lord Hodgson's reforms.
In the letter to Crouch, charities say that: “The Lobbying Act is a confusing and burdensome piece of legislation that weakens our democracy, rather than strengthens it.” They warn that rules are “vague and confusing” which has particularly discouraged smaller charities, who cannot afford legal advice, from campaigning. “While we recognise that regulation is necessary to ensure that no one individual or organisation can exert undue influence at an election, the Lobbying Act has had a disproportionate impact on civil society campaigning,” the letter said. “We are concerned that it caused many organisations not to engage in the run up to the recent general election, and resulted in some important voices being lost from public debate.”