Over the summer, a call for views and evidence was issued by Lord Hodgson’s independent statutory review of the rules that apply to election campaigning by non parties. BWB’s Melanie Carter and Rosamund McCarthy authored a detailed response to Lord Hodgson’s team on behalf of BWB’s Electoral, Political and Campaigning Law team, setting out BWB’s vision for reform of the non party campaigning regime.

The BWB response is available here.

Lord Hodgson asked in his call for evidence whether the current regulatory regime has had a “chilling effect” on campaigning activity by non parties, particularly charitable organisations. BWB argue that it has, because the current regime is burdensome and inconsistent with other, more favourable approaches to regulation, such as the rules that apply to referendums and local election campaigning.

BWB argues that:

• Non parties should only be regulated where they are able to spend large sums of money on activities which they actually intend to influence election outcomes, instead of looking at what a third party might reasonably regard as their intention. This would bring the rules into line with those applying to referendums and local election campaigning, and would mean that campaigning by charities would not be regulated provided they are acting in accordance with charity law requirements of political independence.

• The focus should be on regulation of unsolicited campaign materials. Where individuals have asked to receive communications from a non party, those communications should not be regulated. This would bring the rules more into line with those applying to referendum campaigning.

• Staff costs for non parties should not be included in calculating costs incurred on regulated campaign activities. Registered parties are not required to include staff costs in calculating their spending; requiring third parties to do so creates an arbitrary and artificial distinction between non parties and registered parties, imposing an arduous burden on third parties.

• The present regulated period of one year prior to a general election is too long. We advocate a 16 week regulated period for all elections, as for the Scottish Independence Referendum. Currently, “far from enhancing democracy, the length of the regulated period could be eroding the rich diversity of dialogue which civil society organisations bring to public debate.”

• As digital and online campaigning grow, regulation should seriously reconsider arbitrary distinctions drawn between media organisations (such as print newspapers) and other forms of publishing, including online and digital. In order for regulation to be meaningful, it must ensure all campaigning is treated equally. Currently, “newspapers and periodicals” are able to spend unlimited amounts on influencing election results without being regulated in the same way as other non parties, which seems increasingly unjustifiable in modern society.

For further information please contact Melanie Carter or Rosamund McCarthy at m.carter@bwbllp.com or r.mccarthy@bwbllp.com.

For further information about our leading Electoral, Political and Campaigning Law team, rated in the top tier by Legal 500, please click here.

Melanie Carter photo

Melanie Carter

Partner and Head of Public & Regulatory

+44(0)20 7551 7615

View full information about Melanie Carter
Rosamund McCarthy photo

Rosamund McCarthy

Charity Partner and joint head of Politics, Elections and Campaigning

+44(0)20 7551 7819

View full information about Rosamund McCarthy

Posted on 12/10/2015 in Legal Updates

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