The Sock Doctrine - What can be done about state-funded political activism?

New IEA research calls on government to do more to end state-funded political activism

Summary:

  • The IEA has previously published two reports about state-funded political activism (Sock Puppets and Euro Puppets). This discussion paper provides further evidence of ‘government lobbying government’ and assesses the options available to politicians and civil servants in addressing the issue.
  • Political campaign groups, NGOs and charities receive billions of pounds from government in Britain and the EU. There is strong evidence of similar funding patterns in the USA and Australia. In earlier papers it was argued that state-funding of politically active organisations subverts the democratic process and squanders taxpayers’ money.
  • Growing complaints from state-funded charities that they are being forced to ‘toe the government’s line’ confirm our earlier analysis. An organisation that is dependent on government funding is, by definition, not independent of government. So long as the organisation broadly agrees with the incumbent government, it feels free to speak out on political issues. Only when the government changes does it suddenly feel ‘gagged’ and vulnerable.
  • The government should notify all departments that statutory funding is not to be used for lobbying politicians, publishing material designed to generate support for the introduction or abolition of legislation, regulation and taxation, as well as support for changes to budgets and funding streams (this is our definition of ‘political activity’). Written assurances should be required of ministers, departmental managers and trustees to ensure that the taxpayer does not subsidise political activism.
  • No start-up funds should be granted to any new NGOs, charities or activist groups.
  • Unrestricted grants should not be given to any third party organisation. They should be replaced by restricted grants and contracts in all circumstances.
  • Any organisation that receives funding from central or local government should be subject to the same Freedom of Information obligations as a government agency. The Charity Commission should review its current guidance regarding how much political campaigning is permitted under existing case law and revise the advice it gives to charities accordingly.
  • There is a need to establish an enduring system with rules for both the recipients of state funding and the civil servants interacting with them. A version of the ‘Queensland model’, in which organisations that receive the majority of their income from statutory sources are not allowed to engage in political campaigning, should be given serious consideration by the British government. 

The publication featured in The Sunday Times, The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Telegraph, The Daily Express, City AM and Guido Fawkes Blog.

Read the press release here.

2014, Discussion Paper No 53