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An introduction to campaign finance rules for non-party campaigners

Posted on 17 June 2024

What are non-party campaigners (NPCs)?

NPCs are individuals and interest groups who campaign for and against parties, candidates, issues and policies, without themselves seeking election.

The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) refers to such organisations or individuals as "third parties." There are two types of NPC – a local campaigner and a general campaigner. The rules governing each differ.

The rules governing NPCs

The law is spread across three statutes: primarily PPERA and the Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 (TUAA). If an NPC is campaigning in support of a specific candidate, it must also comply with the Representation of the People Act 1983 (RPA).

In this article we outline some key rules that NPCs should be aware of. Please note, however, that the law in this area is extremely complex, and the application of the rules depends heavily on the facts of any given case. What follows is not intended to be an exhaustive guide to the rules. If you intend to campaign or may have already been campaigning for or against candidates, parties, issues and policies, please contact a member of the Politics & Law team for further advice.

  1. Regulated period

Expenditure is only controlled by the law if it is incurred during the regulated period. The regulated period is 365-days before a general election. This means that all expenditure on "regulated campaign activities" in the 365-days before a general election must be accounted for.

The election will take place on 4 July 2024. This means that the regulated period commenced on 4 July 2023, and will end on 4 July 2024 (inclusive of polling day). Money spent by NPCs from 4 July 2023 is liable to be accounted for retrospectively.

  1. Regulated campaign activity

To determine whether an activity is controlled by the law, an NPC must determine whether an activity is a “regulated campaign activity”. An NPC must consider the list of activities (outlined at schedule 8A of PPERA) and determine whether the respective activity meets the "purpose" and "public" tests. Only if it meets all of the requisite tests, and is listed in Schedule 8A of PPERA, will an activity be regulated.

  1. Spending limits

Once an NPC has determined whether an activity falls to be regulated, it will need to adhere to the various spending limits. The spending limits to be aware of are as follows:

  1. Registration threshold (for registering with the Electoral Commission). Only if an NPC intends to spend over a certain amount will they be required to register as an NPC with the Electoral Commission;
  2. National spending limits;
  3. Focused constituency campaigning spending limits;
  4. Targeted spending limits; and
  5. Spending limits applicable to campaigns in support of specific candidates in specific constituencies (this is governed by RPA).
  1. Reporting obligations

Not only do NPCs have to be cautious about their spending, but they are also liable to report to the Electoral Commission:

  1. Their donations (on a number of different occasions throughout the regulated period and post-election).  Now that the election has been called, these donations must be reported weekly on the following dates:
    Reporting period Pre-poll report due by
    30 May 2024 – 5 June 2024 12 June 2024

    6 June 2024 – 12 June 2024

    19 June 2024

    13 June 2024 – 19 June 2024

    26 June 2024

    20 June 2024 – 26 June 2024

    3 July 2024

    27 June 2024 – 3 July 2024

    10 July 2024

    4 July 2024 (less than 7 days)

    11 July 2024

  2. Their spending on regulated campaign activities post-election.

Only registered NPCs are obliged to make such reports.

Consequences of contravention

The consequences of contravening the law in this area are severe. Some breaches will amount to a criminal offence and may be investigated by the police. Other breaches give rise to a civil sanction, with some breaches giving rise to both criminal and civil sanctions. NPCs may also suffer reputational damage if they are subject to an investigation by the Electoral Commission or the Police.

It is crucial for NPCs to understand and abide by the law. However, the complexity of the law renders this extremely difficult. Please do contact us if you require further advice in this area.

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