I’ve been a quiet blogger of late, but those of you who have taken an interest in the Charity Commission’s investigation of the Atlantic Bridge need not assume that I’ve let things go. You may recall that this organisation consists of at least two entities – a UK-based charity and a US-based charity – dedicated to ‘the simple aim of “Strengthening the Special Relationship” exemplified by the Reagan-Thatcher partnership of the 1980s.’
The Atlantic Bridge diverts money that would otherwise be collected as tax — and help pay for health, education, national debt or equipping troops in Afghanistan — to support the Thatcherite wing of the British Conservative Party and its US allies; US allies drawn from that country’s pro-tobacco, anti-healthcare and anti-environmentalist lobbies.
November saw the UK charity submit its annual report to the Charity Commission, which normally publishes such documents on its website. At time of writing it’s still not landed there and the commission was very reluctant indeed to let me have a copy (even though the Charities Act obliges the commission to make it available for public inspection). In the end they caved in, but not before I’d received a copy from another source.
Indeed, the Charity Commission has been incredibly soft on the Atlantic Bridge. When Andrew Lloyd Webber borrowed art from a charity in his name he was rightly slapped down because you are not allowed to benefit from any charities you have established or manage (and Lloyd Webber is hardly a charity case). But when Tory MP Liam Fox established a charity to subsidise the cost of flying himself, other senior Tories and their US allies back and forth across the Atlantic nothing happened. And when William Hague, a member of the Atlantic Bridge advisory board, got help with cost of his US book launch, nobody seemed bothered (although it’s most likely lucky US taxpayers helped out with that one).
Anyway. For the period of these accounts, the Atlantic Bridge spent more than £80,000 on just three substantial events, two of which were in partnership with the American Legislative Exchange Council.
ALEC was exposed in 1998 when the US tobacco industry made a multi-billion dollar settlement of dozens of lawsuits which included releasing thousands of internal documents. These documents prove beyond doubt that the tobacco industry used ALEC to launder favours and donations to US legislators.
Incredibly, ALEC survived to continue this work — it continues to receive funding from tobacco — but today it is at least as well known for opposing healthcare and for its anti-environmentalism. It is well funded by the oil and pharmaceutical industries, including Pfizer who have directly supported the Atlantic Bridge.
Dr Liam Fox MP established the Atlantic Bridge as a think-tank in 1997, but Fox is no intellectual and so ten years on it had still to publish a single thought. ALEC decided it was time for a relaunch and employed a Conservative Party activist to organise ‘a series of events aimed at conservative leaders from the field of politics, media, business, and academia – exposing them to innovative conservative thinking from the U.S. and Great Britain and helping them forge new transatlantic relationships.’ All subsidised by British and American taxpayers thanks to the organisation’s charitable status.
Despite all this, the Charity Commission has decided to allow the Atlantic Bridge to continue to enjoy the benefits of charitable status. The commission has merely asked the Atlantic Bridge to conform with the UK’s tough sounding laws on public benefit from this point on. If they can do that, they will be allowed to keep the many thousands of pounds, that would otherwise have been collected in taxes, that they have accrued since registering as a charity in 2003.
Yet even this is something the Atlantic Bridge has struggled with. Initially, it posted a vague statement on its website. Now it’s given up and taken the site down altogether.
Posts on the Atlantic Bridge are collected here.