New Elections Bill – impact on charities and issue-based campaigners

From Bates Wells:

Shortly before summer recess, the new Elections Bill 2021 was introduced by the Government.  Whilst much of the focus on the Bill has been on controversial new voter identification requirements, the Bill also aims to amend and supplement existing law applying to organisations that engage in issue-based campaigning and advocacy work, both in the run up to elections and more broadly throughout their day to day activities.

Key changes include:

  • More organisations will have to register with the Electoral Commission when engaging in issue-based campaigning – the Bill introduces a new requirement for registration as a ‘lower-tier’ non-party campaigner, where they incur more than £10,000 of regulated spending in the regulated period (of normally a year) before a general election anywhere across the UK.    Currently, organisations can incur double that amount of regulated spending in England (£20,000), and also up to £10,000 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland,  before being required to register.
  • Restricting overseas organisations’ involvement in elections – The Bill prohibits non-UK based campaigners from incurring regulated spending of more than £700 in relation to a UK election – potentially causing difficulties for some campaigning organisations that do not have an incorporated UK base, such as where they operate through a UK branch of an overseas organisation.
  • New transparency rules for digital campaigning materials: A long-trailed expansion of ‘imprint’ rules to capture online and digital campaigning will require paid-for digital material to contain certain transparency information, where it can reasonably be regarded as intended to influence the public to support (or oppose) parties, candidates, political office-holders or the holding of (or any outcome in) a referendum.  Registered parties and non-party campaigners (including new lower-tier non-party campaigners) will also be required to include imprints on similar material that is not paid for, including where the material “Wholly or mainly relates to a referendum regulated by election law” (a very broad new category) or can reasonably be regarded as intended to promoting or procuring the success or failure of a petition to recall an MP.

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