A little while ago (back in August) I asked readers of this blog to write to Chloe Smith MP, who at the time was guiding the Lobbying Bill through the House of Commons. This Bill was going to curtail all political activity by charities a year before a general election. Shortly afterwards Ms Smith resigned her ministerial post – I don’t know whether she had an ethical crisis: let’s hope so.
The Lobbying Bill moved smoothly through the Commons but the Lords got their teeth stuck into it and forced the Government to pause for 3 months and carry out the consultation it should have carried out in the first place. So all of you who wrote to Chloe Smith can feel rightly that you played your part in a democratic process. Here is the Consultation Document – please – respond to it.
Hopefully one outcome of the consultation will be to expose the murky web of politically partisan thinktanks (almost wholly on the hard right), their intimate links with Corporate lobbyists, which I blogged about last week. Because these “Thinktanks” are registered charities. It would actually be a good thing if the political activities of these dummy thinktanks were curtailed, but I doubt very much whether that was the intention of the Bill and I am sure they would find a way to work around the legislation.
One of the main gripes with Thinktanks, especially those that masquerade as genuine third sector (“grassroots”) groups – this is known as astroturfing, is that their funding is secret. The Tobacco Industry funds astroturfers like The Institute for Economic Affairs, The Cato Institute and The Democracy Institute to oppose regulations that would reduce the number of people killed by smoking. Major Tory Party donor and Hedge Fund supremo Michael Hinze funds Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation, oh and also funds the IEA. Hinze is also linked to Adam Werrity and disgraced former Defence Secretary Liam Fox’s vehicle Atlantic Bridge. Hinze’s Hedge Fund CQS is very successful – what does it invest in? Who knows. The actual industries it invests in are deeply camouflaged by modern financial wizardry. You can bet your farm though that fossil fuels will be in there; and probably tobacco.
I wrote last week and the week before about new Natural England chair Andrew Sells and his being a major Tory party donor and treasurer of The Policy Exchange, another hard right thinktank with roots far into the Tory party and its corporate friends. Sells promised he would cease all political activity on taking the Chair of NE and announced his resignation of the PE Treasurership. He also stated that he would continue to support his favourite charities. The Policy Exchange is, like all the other Thinktanks, true or dummy, a charity. So can Sells truly say he has ceased political activity while continuing to be a major donor for a charity which has more influence over the Conservative Party policy development machine than most cabinet ministers?
There are still many mysteries about who does fund these Thinktanks. However, one thing we do know. Charities benefit from gift aid. That is when a taxpayer donates money to a charity, the Government kindly donates the tax that that individual had paid on their income, back to the charity. So if I gave £10 to Plantlife, the Government would add £2.50 as a refund on income tax.
If you earn a lot and pay tax in the higher income tax rates – it’s even better. Let’s say I’m Andrew Sells and I want to give The Policy Exchange a £50,000 donation. The Government adds on £12,500 Gift aid, and I can also tax relief of £18750. The total cost to me is only £31250, while the Policy Exchange gets £62500 ie I give double what I have paid out. This tax revenue is lost to the Exchequer – that means it’s not available to spend on public services; or it has to be found from some other tax revenue source. You can play the same game here
It’s now clear to me who is a major donor to these secretive corporate lobbyist Think Tanks – it’s you and me, the taxpayers.