Some years ago, your humble Devil and his Kitchen colleague, the Filthy Smoker, noticed that more and more charities were being cited by news media—and, most especially, the BBC—in connection with government initiatives.
These charities almost always reinforced these policies: and these policies were almost always ones that aimed to reduce freedom and liberty in this country.
Out of curiosity, we started to investigate these charities in a very simplistic way: when a charity was quoted as being in favour of yet more grossly invasive legislation, we went to the Charity Commission website and looked up the public accounts.
In the majority of cases, we found that these quoted “charities” were, in fact, largely funded by the government whose policies they were enthusiastically endorsing.
I would like to say that what we unearthed shocked us, but that would be a lie. What did surprise us was just how many of these organisations there were.
People tend to think of charities as being… well… voluntary organisations, doing actual, physical good deeds in the community—whether that be running soup kitchens, cancer hospices or homeless shelters.
But most of these organisations were indulging in little more than flat-out lobbying. And they were using our money to do it. In our view, these charities were being deliberately disingenuous.
And we came up with a name for these organisations—”fake charities”.
We came up with a definition of what a fake charity was:
We define a Fake Charity as any organisation registered as a UK charity that derives more than 10% of its income—and/or more than £1 million—from the government, while also lobbying the government. That lobbying can take the form of calling for new policies, changes to the law or increases in (their own) funding.
And then we set up the fakecharities.org website, in order to inform people about these organisations, and to enable them to search a database in order to satisfy themselves as to whether the charity that they gave money to was, indeed, a fake.
Some of these organisations spend a large amount of their time lobbying the state to curtail our freedoms and not all charities are upfront about the amount of money they receive from the state.
When an ‘independent’ charity takes a political stand or attempts to sway public opinion on matters of policy, we think you have a right to know whether they are being funded by the generosity of the public or by the largesse of the state. We think you have the right to know whether you’re listening to a genuine grass-roots charity or are being fed PR from an astro-turfed lobby group. This site exists to help you make up your own mind about who these campaigners are really working for.
A great many other people—mostly recruited through The Kitchen—helped to build up the site’s database; but it was a colossal task. There seemed to be so many of them and, in order to keep things current, the accounts had to be checked every year.
As such, fakecharities.org website is now somewhat out of date. I hope to switch the site to a wiki-style format over the next couple of months, and I am immensely grateful to those people who have already offered to help.
In the meantime, however, the Institute of Economic Affairs has now published a report on these fake charities. Sockpuppets: how the government lobbies itself and why is a new publication, written by the excellent Chris Snowden.
- In the last 15 years, state funding of charities in Britain has increased significantly. 27,000 charities are now dependent on the government for more than 75 per cent of their income and the ‘voluntary sector’ receives more money from the state than it receives in voluntary donations.
- State funding weakens the independence of charities, making them less inclined to criticise government policy. This can create a ‘sock puppet’ version of civil society giving the illusion of grassroots support for new legislation. These state-funded activists engage in direct lobbying (of politicians) and indirect lobbying (of the public) using taxpayers’ money, thereby blurring the distinction between public and private action.
- State-funded charities and NGOs usually campaign for causes which do not enjoy widespread support amongst the general public (e.g. foreign aid, temperance, identity politics). They typically lobby for bigger government, higher taxes, greater regulation and the creation of new agencies to oversee and enforce new laws. In many cases, they call for increased funding for themselves and their associated departments.
- Urgent action should be taken, including banning government departments from using taxpayer’s money to engage in advertising campaigns, the abolition of unrestricted grants to charities and the creation of a new category of non-profit organisation, for organisations which receive substantial funds from statutory sources.
Commenting on the report, Christopher Snowdon, its author, said:
“It is appalling that for so long the government has got away with debasing the term ‘charity’. Many so-called ‘charities’ are little more than fronts for state-funded campaigns or providers of state-funded services. It is vital that more transparency is introduced so the public know exactly what the government is funding. We also need much greater measures to prevent government squandering our money on trying to manipulate our opinions and behaviour.”
The report [PDF] is very comprehensive, tracking the rise of this practice—stemming, almost inevitably, from a relaxation of the laws about the amount of political campaigning charities can do. I commend it to you all.
Having read the report, it is no wonder that the few volunteers at fakecharities.org were unable to keep on top of the site—27,000 fake charities is an awful lot of organisations to keep track of on a yearly basis.
But it is essential that we continue to try to do so: these organisations are taking large sum of money from the government—money that is taken from us by force. Then these same organisations are then using that money to lobby the state to pass legislation to oppress us.
These fake charities are—in collusion with the state—using our own resources against us: they must be stopped, and the proper meaning of “charity” restored.
This new IEA report is a welcome start in bringing this scandal to a wider audience.