Saturday, 6 February 2016

That ban on taxpayer-funded charities lobbying the government...

… is not so much loopholes as a gate without a fence.

From the BBC:

Organisations given UK government grants will be banned from using the money to try to persuade ministers to change the law or increase spending.

A new clause will be added into all new and renewed grant agreements to ensure funds are spent on good causes, rather than on political campaigns. Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock said "the farce of government lobbying government" had to stop.

Voluntary groups said the rules could threaten their freedom to speak out. Critics also said the restrictions, which come into effect in May and will only apply to grants from central UK government departments, could be hard to enforce.

Many people, including lawyers, somehow believe that money can be earmarked, streamed and traced. It can't*.

For example, 'charities' which are ninety per cent taxpayer funded can still use the other ten per cent of their income to pay for lobbying and spend the ninety per cent on whatever the government asks them to spend it on. So this measure achieves nothing, apart from perhaps restricting the amount that such charities can spend on lobbying slightly - the question is, as usual, was the measure supposed to achieve anything or is the loophole intentional?

And how do you define lobbying? If a 'charity' pays for advertising to sway public opinion, knowing that politicians will bow with the wind, is that still 'lobbying' in the narrow sense?

The only solution is to prevent charities in receipt of a single penny of public money whatsoever from doing any 'awareness raising' or advertising whatsoever. Unless of course 'raising awareness' is the whole point, like for example road safety campaigns (reminding kids to look left and right, warning against the dangers of drink driving etc). But these things are so basic, the government can do it themselves without resorting to an overpriced quango.

* It riles me for example when somebody wins a few quid on the lottery or something, and people ask them "What are you going to spend it on?". That lottery money just goes into the pot. Instead of giving the usual answer "Buy a house/buy a car/go on holiday" it would be just as correct to answer "I will spend it on normal household expenditure and then save up my normal salary to buy a house/buy a car/go on holiday"


The Stigler said...

Yeah. I think it's basically signalling, but with no change. Most charities earn more than enough from donations to cover lobbying.

That said, it may be that government has realised that the wheeze of charity sockpuppets is over, that the classification of "charity" is so damaged that it's lost its value. As others pointed out on my recent post: we used to trust that word a great deal until around 2000.

thethoughtgang said...

You can let them raise awareness. What they should not be able to do is promote or call-for legislation or regulation. They should not be consulted on regulation or legislation.

If you want, you can make a distinction between the government paying for specific services from a charily, and awarding a grant or a donation... since 1) the government buying services from a range of different types of organisations is a good idea and 2) that money can be safely deemed to have not been spent on lobbying.

Those charities that do get high levels of public donations should be fine. And they are not the problem. The problem is those that are almost entirely funded by public money (from EU down to local government/quango/etc) level that are the problem.

Mark Wadsworth said...

TS, yes.

TTG, surely, people or organisations can call for anything they like and the government can ask people for their opinions on stuff? I have no problem with that.

With 'service buying', it all gets a bit murky. A good example of where it works is refuse collection or regulated buses, and of course if the government wants a road building, it puts it out to tender to private companies, but that's about it, I really can't think of many others.

Bayard said...

" - the question is, as usual, was the measure supposed to achieve anything or is the loophole intentional?"

I'd like to think the latter, but I think the former is more likely, i.e. a fakecharity that gets 90% of its funding from the government cannot spend more than 10% of its budget on political campaigning. I am sure that there are fakecharities who get the vast majority of their funding from government and spend the vast majority on campaigning, I mean, that is what they were set up to do. The wailing from "voluntary groups" indicates that this is so. If the measure wasn't going to acheive anything, there wouldn't be any wailing.

Dinero said...

And also consider how the potential private doners would react to the knowledge that any money they donate is going to be spent on lobbying only.