From the Sunday Telegraph today.
RSPCA investigated over 'political' badgers campaign
By Jasper Copping
The RSPCA is being investigated over claims that it has abused its charitable status with a controversial 'political' campaign against a proposed badger cull. The Charity Commission, which regulates charities, is looking into allegations that the society has breached guidelines by getting too involved in political activities.
The inquiry comes as a leading landowner and lawyer is considering mounting a legal challenge to the RSPCA's status.
The furore has flared up over the organisation's "Back off Badgers" campaign against Government proposals to cull the animal over fears that it spreads tuberculosis among cattle. The charity disputes this and has run a high-profile marketing drive, encouraging people to write to the Government before the consultation period on the cull ended last week.
More than 25,000 people responded, but the campaign - which is thought to have cost several thousand pounds - has angered critics who say that it is not the role of a charity to lobby in this way.
Stanley Brodie QC, a landowner in Ayrshire, Scotland, said: "For a long time, the RSPCA have been doing things which don't fit with their charitable status and I got very angry when I saw this latest campaign."
The commission says charities are permitted to engage in political campaigning only if it "furthers the purposes of the charity" and only to the extent that it is "justified by the resources applied".
But Mr Brodie said: "The guidelines are misleading and give far too much latitude to charities. "It makes it seem like any political activity is acceptable as long as it can be said to be ancillary to the organisation's charitable aims and that is not right at all. "The RSPCA are seeking to reverse Government policy and their activities cannot be said to be ancillary to their aims. They are objectives in themselves."
Since taking up the issue, Mr Brodie has attracted dozens of supporters angered by the political tone of the campaign and who believe that the RSPCA has ignored the welfare of cattle in trying to protect badgers.
Bovine TB kills 23,000 cattle each year and costs the taxpayer an annual £90 million. "There is a lot of animosity towards the RSPCA at the moment," he added. "People are fed up with their activities. It has been taken over by individuals with a political agenda and is being used as a pressure group. "It is perfectly at liberty to engage in political campaigning but if it does it should not maintain its tax-free status."
Becky Hawkes, an RSPCA spokesman, said the charity took "careful account of charity law and the guidance issued by the Charity Commission". But Nick Herbert, the Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs, said: "There's a fine line between legitimate campaigning for charitable objects and seeking to get involved in politics and I think the RSPCA has been crossing that line."
John Gallagher, a former Government vet, has also voiced concerns over the campaign. "I've been extremely disappointed by it. It has been political rather than based on animal welfare."
Tim Bonner, of the Countryside Alliance, said: "They have wasted a vast amount of money on campaigns which are, in part, motivated by political as well as animal welfare factors." He added: "Their agenda has become more of an animal rights one than an animal welfare one."
In 2004, the RSPCA was cleared of similar allegations of political campaigning over its support for a fox hunting ban. This time, however, the allegations have been given extra weight by Mr Brodie's threatened legal action.
Meanwhile, Sir David Attenborough, the prominent wildlife broadcaster, has spoken out against the cull, saying it would not halt an epidemic of tuberculosis in cattle. "There will be at best little benefit," he said. "It is unlikely to decrease significantly the incidence of TB in cattle and it may make it worse - at a great cost, financially, in public discord and to badgers."