In an article published in The Times on 6 May 2015, which is now the subject of a legal complaint, it was alleged that the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church had “been leafleting for Conservative candidates in key marginal seats and offering prayers for a Tory victory” in the lead up on the recent UK general election. Such actions were said to have taken place in the constituencies of Yeovile, Chippenham and Montgomeryshire. The UK Charity Commission is currently investigating the allegations, as such actions would contravene a charity’s duty not to “undertake party-political campaigns”.
This is not the first time controversy has engulfed the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church. The Times have previously alleged that the Church, which operates 34 schools, engaged in ‘an “extraordinary lobbying campaign” to pressurise the Charity Commission into granting …charitable status’ to the Preston Down Trust where members of the Church meet. Allegedly, such lobbying included handing out leaflets for Conservative candidates during the 2010 general election.
As Frank Cranmer explains, “it is a basic principle of charity law that charities may not undertake party-political campaigns”. As the UK Charity Commission sets out, “To be a charity an organisation must be established for charitable purposes only, which are for the public benefit. An organisation will not be charitable if its purposes are political”. Furthermore, the Commission makes explicit the obligation not to “give support or funding to a political party, nor to a candidate or politician”. However, the Commission does permit charities giving “support to specific policies advocated by political parties if it would help achieve its charitable purpose”.
The position is similar in Australia, although the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission note that “while a charity can support a political party or candidate, this support must be a way of achieving its purposes rather than a goal in itself“.
Author: Merryn Lynch