6. Charity Commission press notice
and report on investigation into Atlantic Bridge, 26 July 2010
Press notice: Charity Commission publishes report
on investigation into Atlantic Bridge
The Charity Commission, the independent regulator
of charities in England and Wales, has published a regulatory
case report on its investigation into the Atlantic Bridge Education
and Research Scheme ("Atlantic Bridge"), (registered
charity no. 1099513).
The investigation looked at whether Atlantic Bridge
is properly established and registered as a charity, whether its
activities are capable of advancing education for the public benefit
and whether it has engaged in any inappropriate political activity.
The Commission concluded that, although Atlantic
Bridge is a charity with exclusively charitable purposes and is
capable of operating for the public benefit, its educational objects
have not been advanced by its activities because of the way in
which it has promoted the 'Special Relationship' between the US
and the UK. The promotion of the Special Relationship is not the
purpose of the charity and nor can it be. Although it is legitimate
for a charity to study, research or educate the public about the
'Special Relationship', it is not permissible for a charity to
promote a particular pre-determined point of view.
The Commission also concluded that the charity's
activities may lead members of the public to call into question
its independence from party politics. The Commission has made
clear to the trustees their legal and regulatory responsibilities
and that the way that Atlantic Bridge currently carries out its
activities must cease immediately. The full findings of the Commission's
investigation are set out in the report published today.
The Commission has provided the trustees with regulatory
advice and guidance on their obligations under charity law. As
a result of the Commission's intervention, the trustees have committed
to undertake a wide-ranging governance review over the next year
and report back to the Commission within two months of its completion.
The Commission's report also highlights issues for
the wider sector. These include an explanation of the requirements
in charity law for educational charities. This section also stresses
that charities must remain independent from political parties
at all times.
Regulatory Case Report: The
Atlantic Bridge Education and Research Scheme
Registered charity number 1099513
This is a Regulatory Case Report
of an investigation by the Charity Commission ('the Commission')
concerning The Atlantic Bridge Education and Research Scheme ('the
Charity'). The regulatory concerns relate to whether it is properly
registered as a charity, and, if so, the extent to which it is
carrying out charitable activities for the public benefit or is
supporting a political party.
The Investigation focused on whether
the Charity has a political purpose, has carried out charitable
educational activities or has supported a political party by promoting
or aligning itself with a particular strand of party political
policy - which are improper under charity law. These concerns
have the potential to impact not only on the work and reputation
of the Charity, but also on public trust and confidence in charities
Having regard to the principles
of best regulatory practice, the Commission has decided to publish
this Regulatory Case Report on its investigation.
This report also identified relevant
issues for the wider sector. The date of the publication of this
report is 26 July 2010.
1. The Atlantic Bridge Education
and Research Scheme is governed by a trust deed dated 3 February
2003 and was entered onto the Commission's Register of Charities
on 18 September 2003.
2. The Charity's objects are:
'Such objects in any part of
the world ore exclusively charitable in accordance with the laws
of England and Wales.
The furtherance of public education
on both sides of the Atlantic, in areas of common interest, focusing
particularly but not exclusively on free trade, economics, health
Research into relations between
Europe and North America and their implications for the international
community with the aim to raise cultural awareness and improve
3. The Charity's website states
that its aim continues to be 'to provide a transatlantic forum
for generating debate and ideas on effective ways to strengthen
the Special Relationship
through the promotion of close and strong relations between the
United Kingdom and the United States of America'.
4. The Trustees' Report and
Financial Statements from 2007-2009 show that the trustees have
chosen to focus the Charity's activities on public education and
5. From information publicly
available about the Charity, which include its website and Trustees'
Reports and Financial Statements, the Charity has undertaken activities
(i) hosting conferences and
seminars relating to transatlantic aviation, global energy markets,
biotech pharmaceuticals and life science;
(ii) a 'Young Leaders Programme'
to provide an international forum for the exchange of views and
to generate ideas on how to effectively promote and strengthen
the Special Relationship between the United Kingdom and United
States of America;
(iii) the creation of a 'Margaret
Thatcher Lecture and Medal of Freedom' lecture series
which has included speeches by prominent political figures
on various issues including security threats to the United Kingdom
and United States of America; and
(iv) a number of receptions/lectures
by historians and political figures on various issues including
security threats to the United Kingdom and United States of America
and historical Anglo-American relations.
1. The Charity works closely
with an organisation established and operating in the United States
of America, called 'Atlantic Bridge Inc'. Atlantic Bridge Inc
is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organisation with the
Internal Revenue Service ('IRS') of the United States Department
of the Treasury.
The Charity and Atlantic Bridge Inc have similar but separate
websites these are [website address] and [website address].
2. In the Trustees' Report
and Financial Statements for the year ended February 2009, the
Charity's income was £66,153 and its expenditure was £85,325.
Source of concern
3. In August 2009 the Commission
received a complaint from a member of the public that the Charity
appeared to be a party political organisation and that consequently
its objects are not charitable as defined by law. The complaint
made reference to information contained on the Charity's website
regarding its activities and the composition of the trustee body.
The complaint queried the fact that the majority of the trustees
are members of, or have an affiliation with, the Conservative
and that the activities of the Charity support the Conservative
Party, its members and followers. The complainant questioned whether
the Charity could demonstrate that it is operating for the public
4. This complaint raised concerns
for the Commission that the Charity may have a political purpose,
support a political party and be acting in such a way as to call
into question the Charity's independence from political parties.
5. Following a review of information
available about the Charity and its activities, including information
published on its website the Commission identified additional
causes for concern. These were, whether:
(i) the activities of the Charity
were capable of advancing education under charity law; and
(ii) the trustees were able
to demonstrate that the Charity operates for the public benefit.
1. The Commission opened a
regulatory compliance case on 21 August 2009. The Commission's
substantive investigations were concluded on 5 July 2010.
2. The purpose of the Commission's
case was to determine whether:
(i) the Atlantic Bridge Education
and Research Scheme is established as a charity capable of operating
for the public benefit;
(i) the activities of the Charity
are furthering its charitable purposes for the public benefit;
(ii) the Charity had engaged
in inappropriate political activities
The Commission also looked at the
governance of the Charity.
1. During the course of its
investigation, the Commission made a number of enquiries to resolve
the issues outlined above . This work included corresponding and
meeting with the trustees to discuss the Commission's regulatory
concerns and obtain further information. The Commission also reviewed
publicly available information in relation to the Charity and
2. This was the Commission's
first engagement with the Charity regarding concerns of this nature.
The trustees have co-operated with the Commission's investigation
and accepted the regulatory advice and guidance provided.
15. As a result of its investigation
and information supplied by the trustees, the Commission's findings
are as follows:
(i) Whether the Atlantic Bridge
Education and Research Scheme is established as a charity capable
of operating for the public benefit
16. The Charity's website states
that its purpose is to provide a transatlantic forum for generating
debate and ideas on effective ways to strengthen the Special Relationship
through the promotion of close and strong relations between the
United Kingdom and the United States of America. In itself, this
suggests the promotion of a particular point of view which would
not be charitable.
17. However, the Charity's
actual principal object as set out in its trust deed is "The
furtherance of public education on both sides of the Atlantic,
in areas of common interest, focusing particularly but not exclusively
on free trade, economics, health and science."
18. Such subjects of study
or education, whether defined as in the trust deed or by reference
to the Special Relationship, are legitimate areas of study having
educational value and accordingly such objects fall within the
descriptions of purposes set out in Section 2 (2)(b) of the Charities
Act 2006 being for the advancement of education. Further, these
objects are capable of being carried out for the public benefit
if carried out in a balanced and neutral way which is accessible
to the public.
19. The Investigation found
that, notwithstanding the Charity's own description of its purpose,
the Atlantic Bridge Education and Research Scheme is established
in law as a charity with exclusively charitable objects being
capable of operating for the public benefit. Consequently, it
is properly registered with the Commission as a charity.
(ii) Whether the activities
of the Charity are furthering its charitable purposes for the
20. In considering whether
the activities of the Charity are capable of advancing education
for the public benefit the Investigation assessed whether the
a. in furtherance of the Charity's
purposes as outlined in paragraph 2 above;
b. of educational value or
c. balanced and not seeking
to promote a particular point of view; and
d. made sufficiently available
to the public.
If any one or more of these criteria
were not to be satisfied it would impact on whether the Charity
is advancing education for the public benefit in accordance with
21. Education in a charity law
context does not have to be value free and completely impartial.
Education can be based on broad
values that are uncontroversial which would be generally supported
by objective and informed people. However, the advancement of
education cannot be used to promote a political or pre-determined
point of view. It remains the case that the promotion of an opinion
on its own which is not shown to have educational value (say a
particular position on a matter of public controversy) will not
be charitable, or to put it another way, the attempt to introduce
a particular point of view not exhibiting a general educational
tendency will not be charitable. See Southwood v AG 1998 WL and
2000 WL (CA (Civoiv)) 'The Court is in no position to determine
that promotion of the one view rather than the other is for the
The promotion of the Special Relationship
22. The Charity has previously
placed considerable emphasis on the Special Relationship as exemplified
by the Thatcher-Reagan dynamic during their time in office.
Based on the framework outlined in paragraph 20 above, the Investigation
considered that promoting the approach or viewpoints of these
leaders in relation to the Special Relationship during their time
in office would not generally be accepted by members of the public
as being uncontroversial. Consequently, this approach could not
be accepted as advancing education under charity law.
23. The Charity informed the
Investigation that the example of the Thatcher-Reagan partnership
has been used because it illustrates a particularly close and
strong example of cooperation. The Charity has confirmed that
other dynamics have been explored and that the Special Relationship
does not depend on the personal chemistry between any two leaders
or the relationship between political parties. The Charity has
not demonstrated that these events have offered a broad cross-section
of views on the topics discussed.
24. While the advancement of
education in the Special Relationship can be an accepted subject
of education, study and research, the Investigation found that
the events and activities that the Charity considered to have
advanced education could not have done so because they promoted
a predetermined point of view.
The trustees adopted the starting point that the Special Relationship
between the United Kingdom and the United States of America should
be promoted and strengthened. As such, these are not educational
activities as understood in charity law.
Dissemination to the public
25. The Investigation went
on to consider whether information and material from the various
events and lectures held were made sufficiently available to the
public. This is a key criterion for charities which engage in
educational and research work and a way to demonstrate that a
charity operates for the public benefit.
26. Having reviewed information
publicly available and supplied by the Charity, the Investigation
found that it was not evident that this had advanced education.
27. The Investigation found
that the results and findings of the Charity's research, lectures
and events had not been sufficiently disseminated to the public
little material had been published on the Charity's website
or elsewhere. The Charity has confirmed that it intends in the
future to place more information on its website relating to its
events to ensure that this is made available to the public.
28. The Investigation has however
made it clear that, if the material produced by the Charity is
not educational (for example, by virtue of it promoting a particular
point of view), making this publicly available will not satisfy
the requirements for advancing education under charity law.6
(iii) Whether the Charity engaged
in inappropriate political activities
29. The Investigation noted
that despite the breadth of the objects of the Charity which referred
to relations between Europe and North America, the Charity had
confined its works to the United Kingdom and the United States
of America. It further noted that the Charity, through its website
and activities, had focused on Margaret Thatcher's interpretation
and promotion of the Special Relationship to demonstrate the benefits
of the relationship, which the trustees have said illustrated
the strength of the relationship at that time. This can be seen
as an aspect of the Conservative Party's political thinking, although
it is accepted that the Special Relationship is a term used by
leaders from various political parties in both the US and UK.
Against that background, the Charity's activities such as the
Young Leaders Programme and various lectures/seminars held, have
significantly focused on the promotion of the Special Relationship
in a similar manner. The trustees informed the Investigation that
they created a 'Margaret Thatcher Lecture and Medal of Freedom'
in honour of the Charity's patron, Lady Thatcher and that this
served as both a fundraising activity for the Charity and an activity
which they considered furthered its charitable purposes.
30. The Investigation considered
that, whilst it is acceptable for a charity to have patrons and
trustees who are politicians or political figures, the trustees
should give sufficient consideration to any risks that may arise
from this and manage these appropriately. From a review of the
speeches given at the Margaret Thatcher lecture by the recipients
of the Margaret Thatcher Medal of Freedom, it is apparent that
their contents have focused on her personal contribution during
her time as Prime Minister and the point of view that the Special
Relationship should be strengthened and promoted. This suggests
that the activities of the Charity are promoting a political policy
which is closely associated with the Conservative Party.
31. From the information available
to the Investigation, it is not evident that, when politicians
and political figures have spoken or participated at the Charity's
events, the trustees can demonstrate that they have done so in
a neutral and balanced manner and included a sufficient cross-section
of views to enable those attending to make up their own minds
on the issues being discussed. Equally, it is not apparent that
the trustees have ensured that these events were educational and
not promoting a particular point of view, namely the enhancement
of the Special Relationship.
32. During the Investigation,
the complainant contacted the Commission again regarding the content
of an article written by the Chief Executive of Atlantic Bridge
entitled 'What Britain's Changing of the Guard will mean for the
US'. The article is political in nature and commented on the implications
for the United States of America of a Conservative Government
following the May 6 UK General Election. The author concluded
that "Americans should look forward to May 6, after which
Cameron and his government will likely assume power. He (David
Cameron) will be good for America and better for the Special Relationship".
This article was published on 7 April 2010.
33. The article did not distinguish
between the UK and US based organisations simply referring to
the Atlantic Bridge as 'a non-profit foundation with offices in
both countries that seeks to promote the special security relationship
between America and Britain'. The Charity, despite having a working
relationship with Atlantic Bridge Inc, should maintain a clear
separation between it and the American-based organisation. Failure
to do so is likely to damage the reputation and call into question
the independence of the Charity, as was evident on this occasion.
34. In reviewing the activities
of the Charity, the Investigation found that some of these could
call into question the Charity's independence from party politics.
Furthermore, the Investigation found that some of these activities
could lead members of the public to associate the Charity and
its work with the Conservative Party and question whether it is
promoting a political point of view or has a political purpose.
35. The Commission concluded
that the Atlantic Bridge Education and Research Scheme is established
as a charity with exclusively charitable purposes and is capable
of operating for the public benefit.
36. The educational objectives
of the Charity have not been advanced by its activities because
these activities promote a particular point of view which is not
uncontroversial, and are consequently not educational . In addition
the results and findings of the work of the Charity have not furthered
any of its other charitable purposes in any way.
37. The Commission also concluded
that the activities of the Charity may lead members of the public
to call into question its independence from party politics. The
promotion of the Special Relationship is not the purpose of this
Charity, nor can it be. The Commission has made it clear to the
trustees their legal and regulatory responsibilities and that
the Charity's current activities must cease immediately
38. To ensure that the Charity
operates in compliance with charity law, the Commission has requested
that the Charity undertake to carry out certain steps in the next
twelve months as detailed below..
39. The Commission provided
the trustees with regulatory advice and guidance regarding the
legal and regulatory requirements with which it must comply. The
Commission also provided the trustees with specific regulatory
advice and guidance regarding the advancement of education under
charity law and operating in the political environment.
40. As a result of the Commission's
intervention the Charity has committed to undertake a review over
the next twelve months to include:
(i) the activities of the Charity
to ensure that they are compatible with and capable of furthering
its charitable objects - as written in its governing document
- for the public benefit;
(ii) ensuring that decisions
to undertake activities are made from the starting point of considering
how best to further one or more of the Charity's objects for the
public benefit as set out in its trust deed;8
(iii) the content of the Charity's
website - in particular how the Charity explains its aims and
purpose, whether its content is politically neutral and giving
greater clarity between the Charity's website and that of Atlantic
(iv) the maintenance of proper
records regarding trustee decision-making; and
(v) regular risk assessments
in relation to the Charity's activities and records steps taken
to mitigate these.
41. The Commission has requested
that the trustees report on the outcome of the review within two
months of its completion.
42. Failure by the trustees
to address the issues raised with them would be of serious concern.
If the trustees fail to ensure that the Charity operates within
the legal and regulatory requirements this may result in future
regulatory action by the Commission.
Issues for the wider sector
43. One of the key features of
advancing education or promoting research for the public benefit
in charity law is that the education or research must not promote
a position on a contested issue or area, unless that view is uncontroversial.
To advance education under charity law, information must be presented
in such a way as to allow those being educated to make up their
own minds on the issues and form conclusions that are based on
an objective analysis of the evidence. Equally, this principle
applies to promoting a particular political stance or policy,
which cannot be charitable. Trustees can only educate the public
about a political policy in general terms, for example debates
on the nature and content of those policies, rather than educating
from the point of view that a certain political policy is good
or better than another.
44. It is a fundamental principle
that charities must remain independent from party politics and
cannot give support to a political party, politician or political
candidate. This applies to both purpose and activity. Support
for a political party cannot be for the public benefit as it is
not possible for the courts to judge the public benefit of one
policy over another.
45. The trustees of charities
engaging in the political arena must also take care to protect
the charity's independence and perceptions of its independence.
Charity trustees have a legal duty to act in the charity's best
interests, and so should not take decisions that cause harm to
the charity by leading to adverse publicity, or seriously compromising
a charity's independence, or perceptions of this.
26 July 2010
75 The term the 'Special Relationship' was first used
in 1946 by Sir Winston Churchill in Missouri, USA to describe
what he considered to be close relations between the United Kingdom
and the United States of America particularly in relation to common
security and defence. Since Sir Winston Churchill's use of the
term, it has developed over time and is viewed by some to extend
beyond defence and security matters to include, amongst others:
world trade, the environment and international aid. The term has
subsequently been used by leaders from various political parties
in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Back
[website address] Back
More information relating to guest speakers at the Charity's events
can be found on the Charity's website [website address] and in
the Trustees' Reports and Financial Statements which can be viewed
here [website address] Back
More information on 501(0(3) organisations can be found here [website
A full list of the current trustees can be found by viewing the
Charity's entry on the Commission's Register of Charities which
is accessible here [website address] and here [website address] Back
The Charity's website previously stated that "The Atlantic
Bridge was founded...with the simple aim of 'Strengthening the
Special Relationship' exemplified by the Reagan-Thatcher partnership
of the 1980's". The aim of the Charity can be found on its
website here [website address] Back
In the case of Southwood v Attorney General  All ER(0)
886- it was accepted by the Court that the promotion of peace
was not a controversial point of view, as most people would accept
that peace is preferable to a state of war. However the Court
considered the ways in which a charity may seek to achieve peace,
in this case through proposing unilateral disarmament, was viewed
as controversial and inevitably involves making political judgements
which would usurp the role of government. It was therefore deemed
not to be advancing education. Charities with education and research
objects can advance these objects from a pre-determined point
of view only if this is from an uncontroversial base point. Back
The Commission has previously considered whether an organisation,
known as the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, would be eligible for
registration as a charity. The Commission examined the objects
of the organisation and its proposed activities. The Commission
advised that the activities, as outlined, were not educational
under charity law as they were concerned with arguing and advancing
a particular political viewpoint. This decision was reported in
the Commission's Annual Report 1991. Back
Further information relating to these events can be found on the
Charity's website [website address] Back
Atlantic Bridge Inc is a 501(c)(3) organisation registered with
the IRS in the United States, therefore its activities do not
fall within the jurisdiction of the Commission. Back
[website address] Back