The James Bulger Memorial Trust are a good example of what charities should be like. Born out of tragic events, they have raised thousands for disadvantaged youth in the city of Liverpool and they deserve support.
The charity have recently been in the press after the Merseyside Love Activists, a group of anti-austerity protesters, dirupted what has been called a joint fundraising ball for the James Bulger Trust and the current Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson. According to the Love Activists they did not know that this evening was partly being held to raise money for charity and this was a spontaneous protest, initiated by local cabbies, at which they hoped to confront the Mayor over growing homelessness in Liverpool.
Whilst accounts of the night vary, there is no doubt the disruption caused distress to the Bulger family and the Love Activists are right to have issued a wholehearted apology. This should not take away from the fantastic work the Love Activists themselves have done supporting homeless people in Liverpool. As clumsy as this intervention was, there is no doubt that it was an honest mistake.
However there is one more aspect to this incident which cannot be ignored because it cuts right through to the Mayor of Liverpool’s moral and financial integrity. And that is the fact that the financial arrangements for this event are so murky that it probably should never have taken place at all.
According to an advertisement for the night on Joe Anderson’s website, this event was a business dinner and charity auction with money raised “split between local charities and Mayor Anderson’s campaign fund.” Further down the page the James Bulger Memorial Trust are named as a nominated charity. It is unclear from this page, which was used to both sell tickets and solicit sponsorship for the event, exactly how much money was going to Anderson and how much to the trust or whether they were the only charity to benefit. Clearly the use of the trust’s name and logo would have been one deciding factor in whether someone bought a ticket. To put what Anderson did in context, this is a little like a chocolate bar company saying if you buy our product we’ll give some of the money to charities, but not saying how much, or even being clear about which charities. It is without doubt unethical. It is thoroughly dishonest. And, whilst the situation is complex, it is quite probably illegal.
How much money the evening raised in total is unknown, although local media reported that the charity received £21,000. Whether this came from solely the charity auction, a cut of the ticket prices, or some of the sponsorship money, is unclear. Details of sponsorship packages on Joe Anderson’s website suggest the event had attracted at least three silver sponsors, priced at £7500 each and one gold sponsor who had given an unspecified sum. Along with a drinks sponsor, charity auction and ticket sales it appears that Anderson’s campaign also received a tidy sum from this charity-themed event.
The truth is that joint fundraising events are a legal minefield. It is possible that Anderson would be viewed as acting as a commercial partner under the law and this would mean a whole host of fundraising regulations come into play. These would include a requirement to provide a clear statement showing the exact percentage of the money raised that would go to the charity. There is no such information on Anderson’s website.
In addition to this there are strict rules to prevent unscrupulous politicians from taking advantage of public goodwill towards charities. And when it comes to raising money then charity law is clear, registered charities and political parties or individuals should not take part in joint fundraising events. The Charity Commission themselves issued guidelines on this (pdf) after an investigation found that The Prince’s Trust had broken charity law after a joint fundraising event held with a Tory Party campaign group. According to the Commission:
“Joint fundraising ventures with political organisations pose fundamental risks to a charity’s reputation and to public perception of its independence from political parties. Entering into a joint fundraising venture with a political party will almost certainly result in the charity giving support to that party, politician or political candidate. This would breach charity law and could, in damaging the charity’s reputation, jeopardise its future ability to fundraise and further its charitable purpose.”
Whether the Mayor of Liverpool knew about these regulations, and ignored them, or was ignorant of the law, makes little difference. Elected officials should be meticulous in informing their constituents how they raise money and what it is to be used for. Perhaps most despicably, it would be the James Bulger Foundation who would face any potential legal problems were the Charity Commission to investigate this event. Yet it is Anderson to blame, this is clearly his initiative – there is no mention of the Mayor’s fundraising dinner on the charity’s website.
It was a mistake for the Love Activists to disrupt the evening, and they are right to have apologised to the Bulger family. But they acted with a decent, if on this occasion misguided, intent – to confront the Mayor about the homelessness crisis emerging in Liverpool. Joe Anderson however, who is currently milking the events of Friday night for all they are worth, is only fucking in it for himself. To raise money for his own political campaign on the back of a well loved local charity – and potentially put that charity at risk – is about as low as a politician can stoop.