Britain’s voluntary sector regulator – the Charity Commission – is investigating allegations that an entity founded by Matthew Elliott — the chief executive of establishment Brexit group Vote Leave — has broken the law by funnelling donations to groups involved in Eurosceptic political campaigns.
Mr. Elliott, 37, founded the Politics and Economics Research Trust (PERT) in 2004. That trust is now accused in a letter of complaint by Labour MP Emma Reynolds of having given 97 per cent of its grants in 2014 to Brexit-favouring groups “in contravention of the law”, reports The Guardian.
The charity reportedly granted £532,000 last year. £300,000 went to the Tax Payers’ Alliance and £205,000 to Business for Britain, both of which are soft-Eurosceptic groups run by Mr. Elliott. A further £10,000 went to Global Britain, another EU-out organisation.
This was not the first year in which such payments were made. In 2013 PERT gave £415,000 to the Tax Payers’ Alliance and Business for Britain.
In making such grants the trust risks being found in breach of the law that charities are not permitted to exist for a political purpose.
In certain circumstances donations to charities may benefit from Gift Aid — a scheme that allows registered charities to reclaim tax on donations made by UK taxpayers, in effect increasing the size of the donation. Using that scheme PERT claimed more than £58,000 in gift aid in 2013.
The letter sent to the Charity Commission says:
“Pert may be in breach of charities’ legally binding commitments to preserve their independence, specifically regarding political activity and the delivery of charitable objectives…
“Given that it appears that Pert has been engaging in day-to-day political activity, can you confirm whether its conduct is in contravention of the law?”
PERT’s charity lawyer, Moira Protani, has attempted to defend the trust’s Gift Aid practices, saying:
“My client does not campaign and neither does it have a political ‘agenda’ in its grant-giving activity. It provides funds for the purpose of conducting high-quality research which furthers the charity’s objects.
“My client has built up a relationship with organisations which, in its opinion, have competent researchers capable of conducting an independent analysis on a given subject with rigorous methodologies and processes…
“In practice my client makes grants towards the costs of research which fall within the objects of the charity. My client expects grant applicants to apply rigorous processes and methodology to any research which is conducted and to publish the results of the research.”
In 2011, following a complaint from former Labour Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, the trust was warned by the Charity Commission over the need for it to “properly manage” its relationship with the Tax Payers’ Alliance, a campaign group of which Matthew Elliott was the founder.