Protests are to be held today against a new Bill which campaigners say will gag charities in the run up to the 2015 General Election.
The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill would set a £390,000 cap on the amount any organisation - excluding political parties - could spend during elections.
Labour and trade unions have criticised the proposals, while charities including Oxfam and the Royal British Legion have also voiced fears.
But the Coalition Government has insisted reform is needed and said the ability of charities to campaign on issues will not be affected.
Tory MPs including Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Eric Ollerenshaw and Wyre and Preston North MP Ben Wallace voted in favour of the bill on Tuesday, while Labour’s West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper voted against it.
Anti-racism and fascism charity Hope Not Hate has organised a protest in Lancaster town centre against Mr Ollerenshaw’s vote.
David Whitaker, from Hope not Hate Lancaster, said: “I’m furious my MP has voted to gag charities and campaign groups. This is a political decision. The Bill does little to control corporate lobbying and lobbyists. Wealthy people are still free to pour money into political parties and expect privileges and influence in return – the House of Lords is stuffed with them.
“But groups and charities with thousands of supporters that campaign on important issues – military veterans’ welfare, child poverty, cancer policy and defeating fascism and racism – are gagged.
“The Government is selling our off democracy and silencing those that protest.”
The Bill will now go to the committee stage on Tuesday.
Mr Ollerenshaw said: “The real issue in a general election is that third parties should not be able to come in and spend thousands supporting a political candidate and not be bound by the same rules we are as political parties.
“I have worked in the past with Hope not Hate. They clearly campaign against a party candidate, usually the BNP, but they do not say they have got a preferred candidate. I think there is some clarification needed there.
“I’m told from their own documents Hope not Hate only spent £319,000 at the last election, so they are below the new cap that is coming in.”
Ben Wallace said the Bill was needed because “we don’t want British politics to end up like American politics”.
He said: “The American system is full of third parties being used as vehicles by political parties to circumnavigate political rules and funding rules.
“Some of the charities seem to misunderstand and we want to make clear they can’t go round endorsing individual parties, but they are perfectly able to campaign in election time for a policy.”
The government may yet offer to remove several clauses, including ones that say campaigning can count as political if it procures success for a candidate, even if it does not endorse a specific party.
Rosie Cooper MP said: “I voted against this Bill because it is a bad Bill. It is so bad in fact the Government is retreating already having managed to unite transparency campaigners and the lobbying industry in opposing the bill.
“Charities and campaigners are a vital part of our democratic process yet they could be gagged from speaking out on issues and scrutinising government policies.
“This means in future campaigns such as the NUS on university tuition fees, the Royal British Legion on Military Covenant campaign or various cancer organisations would be stopped.”