Campaigning under the Lobbying Act: FAQs
5 May 2017
The Lobbying Act came into force following the announcement of a snap general election on 8 June 2017. Working out which activities might be caught by the legislation and which ones aren’t can be confusing.
Campaigning is a normal and legitimate part of what Bond members do, and it is vital that organisations continue to speak out during the electoral period. We’ve assembled frequently asked questions to help you campaign within the Lobbying Act rules.
What is the Lobbying Act?
The Lobbying Act is a piece of legislation which sets out rules for charities, NGOs and campaign groups undertaking public campaign activities in the run up to elections, known as the regulated period. Passed in 2014, it amended an existing piece of electoral law known as the Political Parties, Elections, and Referendums 2000 Act.
When is the regulated period for the 2017 General Election?
The regulated period begins 365 days prior to an election. For this election, the regulated period applies retrospectively from 9 June 2016 until 8 June 2017. Organisations that spend more than £20,000 in England, or £10,000 in either Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, on regulated campaign activities during the regulated period must register with the Electoral Commission.
It is unlikely that public campaigning that took place before the snap election announcement will count as regulated activity. However, spending at the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections in March 2017, and local and mayoral elections in May 2017, could be regulated.
What is a regulated activity?
Only spending on regulated campaign activities falls under the Act. There are five types of activity that are considered regulated:
- election material (including leaflets, adverts, and social media)
- canvassing and market research
- public rallies or events
- press conferences and media events
- campaign transport
These campaign activities are only regulated if they pass both the “public test” and the “purpose test”. An activity passes the public test if it is directed towards or involves communicating with the public or a section of the public. Your “committed supporters” are not considered to be part of the public.
An activity passes the purpose test if it can reasonably be regarded as intended to influence voters to vote for or against one or more political parties, or political parties or candidates that support or do not support particular policies or issues.
How can I tell if my activity passes the purpose test?
The purpose test concerns how your activity is regarded by others, rather than its actual intent. This can make it harder to work out if an activity passes the test or not. The Electoral Commission has produced guidance to help campaigners with this.
Key things that the Electoral Commission encourages campaigners to consider are the tone of the activity (e.g. if it is positive or negative towards a party, candidate or policy), the context (e.g. if the issue is a prominent one, or if the parties agree or disagree on it), and if it contains a call to action (e.g. if it asks voters to vote for a particular party or candidate that supports or does not support a policy either implicitly or explicitly). An activity will almost always meet the purpose test and be deemed regulated if it:
- Identifies parties or candidates that support or do not support your campaign aims
- Sets out or compares the position of political parties or candidates on a policy you are promoting in a way that could reasonably be regarded as intended to influence voter choice
- Promotes or opposes policies that are closely and publicly associated with a party or candidate in a way that could reasonably be regarded as intended to influence voter choice
What are committed supporters?
According to the Electoral Commission, a ”committed supporter” is either a constitutional member, a regular donor by direct debit, or a person who is “actively involved” in the charity. Signing up to a mailing list, or following an organisation on social media does not constitute active involvement.
What spending is regulated?
All costs that relate to the regulated campaign activity, including staff costs, count towards your spending limit. You must also include any overheads or administrative costs that relate to this activity. Staff costs related to budgeting or planning a regulated campaign activity also count. More information on monitoring campaign spending [PDF] is available from the Electoral Commission.
Is spending on social media regulated?
Social media communications nearly always pass the public test, so will be regulated if they also pass the purpose test. In many cases, the cost of posting an individual tweet or updating a Facebook page is small. However, if you are producing infographics or videos that pass the purpose test, you must count all the staff and non-staff costs that relate to the design and production of these materials. More information on social media campaigning during elections [PDF] is available from the Electoral Commission.
Where can I find out more?
Check out our briefing on the Lobbying Act and read the guidance for non-party campaigners by the Electoral Commission.
Please note: This blog does not constitute legal advice.