Last week’s Charity Commission report ruled the Smith Institute was in breach of the laws on political impartiality. Paul Myners whines that the Charity Commission “have shown a fundamental lack of understanding of the work that all think tanks undertake.”* It is Myners and his fellow trustees who have clearly shown a fundamental disregard or lack of understanding for Charity law. A “think tank” is not a legally defined entity, legally the Smith Institute is a registered charity. Other think tanks, such as the similarly named but rather more illustrious Adam Smith Institute think tank, do not seek charitable status. Partisan think tanks should not be able to abuse the tax exemptions available to charities, because charities can reclaim taxes on donations they are legally obliged not to stray in partisan politics.
In the years leading up to Brown seizing the premiership the Smith Institute was functioning as his political secretariat. Whenever he needed something done outside the party structures, the Smith Institute was used. Photo-opportunity with Al Gore needed? Get the Smith Institute to invite him. Want to get the line out to Toynbee and the media fan base? Have the Smith Institute invite them. Want private polling advice? Get Deborah Mattinson to do it for the Institute (didn’t she do well as a result
). Gordon wants expensive strategic advice from Bob Shrum? Put Bob on the payroll and slush the money through the Smith Institute…
Herein lies a very difficult problem for Gordon Brown – the Charity Commission has found that the Institute’s Senior Research Fellow, the expensive pollster and strategist Bob Shrum, was unsupervised. The Inquiry could only identify him leading two events in 2006, both of which did not further the Institute’s charitable purpose. So what was he doing for his money between September 2005 – April 2007? He was advising Gordon Brown on strategy and tactics. This service was undeclared to the Electoral Commission and is a breach of Section 50 (2) (f) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Following the publication of the Charity Commission report a formal complaint has been put in to the Electoral Commission. Although he has so far refused to respond to questions from the Charity Commission about the Smith Institute, this is not yet over for Gordon Brown. He may have thought the issue closed, but it has opened up a new front.
See also : Flashback : The Smith Institute Exposé
*Faithfully reported, without critical comment, in the Guardian. Paul Myners is also the chairman of the Guardian Media Group.