Conservative Party fined £70,000 following investigation into election campaign expenses
Published: 16 Mar 2017
The Conservative Party have been fined a total of £70,000 following the conclusion of the Electoral Commission’s investigation into the party’s campaign spending. The investigation concluded that there were significant failures by the Party to report accurately on how much it spent on campaigning at three by-elections in 2014 and at the 2015 UK Parliamentary general election.
The Conservative Party’s 2015 UK Parliamentary general election spending return was missing payments worth at least £104,765.
Separately, payments worth up to £118,124 were either not reported to the Commission or were incorrectly reported by the party. A portion of this amount should have been included in the Party’s return but wasn’t. Another portion was put into the Party’s return when it was candidate spending in a number of constituencies where the Party spent money promoting individual candidates.
In addition, the Party did not include the required invoices or receipts for 81 payments to the value of £52,924.
Finally, the Party failed to maintain records explaining the amounts it invoiced to candidates in three 2014 by-elections, for work on their campaigns. Therefore the accuracy of the amounts could not be verified.
Commenting on the outcome of the investigation, Sir John Holmes, Chair of the Electoral Commission said:
“Our investigation uncovered numerous failures by a large, well-resourced and experienced Party to ensure that accurate records of spending were maintained and that all of the Party’s spending was reported correctly. The rules established by Parliament for political parties and their finances are there to ensure transparency and accountability. Where the rules are not followed, it undermines voters’ confidence in our democratic processes, which is why political parties need to take their responsibilities under the legislation seriously.”
Sir John Holmes continued;
“This is the third investigation we have recently concluded where the largest political parties have failed to report up to six figure sums following major elections, and have been fined as a result. There is a risk that some political parties might come to view the payment of these fines as a cost of doing business; the Commission therefore needs to be able to impose sanctions that are proportionate to the levels of spending now routinely handled by parties and campaigners.”
Background to the Conservative Party investigation
Under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) it is the responsibility of a political party’s registered treasurer to ensure that an accurate and complete campaign spending return is submitted to the Electoral Commission by the statutory deadline following national elections.
Following the publication of the Conservative Party’s 2015 UK Parliamentary general election spending return on 20 January 2016, Channel 4 News raised concerns – which fed into the Commission’s own investigations – that the Conservative Party’s spending return may have been incomplete. Their allegations also indicated that the Party’s spending return for the 2014 European Parliamentary elections also may not have been complete.
Following initial enquiries with the Party, the Commission opened an investigation on 15 February 2016.
Scope of the Commission’s investigation
In summary, the Commission’s investigation considered the following:
- Whether campaign costs incurred by the Party in the South Thanet constituency during the 2015 general election campaign were correctly reported by the Party.
- Whether campaign costs incurred by the transport of activists by the Party to a number of constituencies across the UK during the 2015 general election campaign were correctly reported by the Party.
- Whether any further payments were omitted from the Party return
- Whether there were any required invoices or receipts missing from the Party return.
Conclusions of the investigation
The investigation has now ended and concluded that Mr Simon Day, the registered treasurer of the party until April 2016, committed three contraventions under section 41 and two offences under section 82(4)(b) of PPERA.
The Conservative Party has been fined £70,000 under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums (Civil Sanctions) Order 2010. The Party has until 13 April 2017 to pay the fine.
Summary of findings:
The Commission found that:
For more information please contact Megan Phillips in the Electoral Commission press office.
Notes to editors:
Op-ed: The long running but underreported saga of allegations that the Conservative Party broke election spending rules rolls on but there is some news.
Thursday there are reports that the Tory Party has been fined a record £70,000 by the Electoral Commission. That is a five figure sum fine for a six figure sum accounting error.
The electoral commission wants to be able to issue fines in the hundreds of thousands of pounds rather than tens but is not allowed to. That may now change.
Currently the maximum fine in each case is £20,000. An electoral commission spokesperson said at least one of the incidents the Tory party have been fined for warranted a much higher fine.
The Tory party has until April 13 to pay the fines and has said it will comply.
It will now be down to police investigating the allegations to determine if auditing errors were accidental or deliberate.
Last week unelected PM Theresa May and her government were allegedly worried about the investigation.
Will the fines have alleviated Tory worries?
Breaking electoral commission spending rules can result in jail time!
It can also in effect steal elections.
It's difficult to believe that the supposedly fiscally competent Tory Party could accidentally make such errors. They are hardly a new political party getting to grips with electoral rules and regulations.
Inaccurate expense recording by the Tory party was found in three 2014 by-elections and during the 2015 general election campaign; a general election that they won against the odds.
That leaves people questioning whether the Tory party won the 2015 general election by fair or foul means.
Certainly news that the electoral commission says the Tory party was uncooperative with the investigation rings alarm bells.
Why were they to quote, guilty of unreasonably uncooperative conduct?
Thursday ITV news reports;
The investigation found:
Are there some deliberate auditing errors now classed as part of the campaign to win an election and worth the risk?
Other parties have faced lesser fines for errors but the Tory party appears to have carried out widespread election misspending since 2014.
Updates as available.
Full Electoral Commission announcement and background to allegations
Full ITV report here
Op-ed: The mainstream media in the UK is concentrating on Chancellor Hammond's rapid back pedalling with regards to an increase in National Insurance for the self-employed but for many the big story is allegations of Tory Party misspending during the 2015 General Election.
Or as some call it allegation of Tory election fraud.
The Conservative Party surprised itself when it won the 2015 General Election helped along by the rise of the SNP in Scotland, doubts over Ed Miliband's leadership qualities spread by the media and the promise of an EU in or out referendum.
Wednesday media sources are reporting that the Crown Prosecution Service has received files from 12 police forces across the UK relating to Tory Party misspending allegations.
For many viewers it will be brand new news but for many of us it is the continuation of a story that broke over one-year ago.
Channel 4 journalists notably Michael Crick have been questioning whether election spending rules were broken in 2015 and they have done so for some time.
It even led to suspicions that was why the then PM David Cameron wanted to sell off Channel 4!
But Channel 4 reporters kept the pressure up.
This woman has written about the allegations on numerous occasions but it is probably fair to say that for many people it is breaking news Wednesday.
Actually hearing it mentioned on Sky News as Kay Burley questioned former Tory Chancellor Norman Lamont was satisfying.
It means that finally the British electorate will get some mainstream news reporting on allegations of Tory election misspending.
Will there be a whitewash with allegations swept under the carpet amid promises not to do it again?
There are strict election spending rules in the UK; so strict that even not accounting for a postage stamp could in theory result in jail time.
So who will take the wrap? Will there be by-elections in affected constituencies? Could the Tory Party's slim majority be slashed?
Will any person be jailed?
Police forces were given additional time to investigate the allegations but the deadline is now May 9 and the clock is ticking.
The Guardian reports "it emerged on Tuesday that Kent police had interviewed Craig Mackinlay, the Tory MP for South Thanet, under caution over his spending returns relating to his campaign against the then Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, in 2015." That investigation is ongoing.
Mackinlay was interviewed under police caution.
"Earlier on Wednesday, Will Quince, the Tory MP for Colchester, also revealed he had been interviewed under caution over allegations about overspending in the last general election. He said police told him there would be no further action against him after the interview, which took place in January."
Our earlier reports include;
Note: The Electoral Commission issues clear guidelines on spending. These state that: There are two types of spending by or on behalf of parties at elections.
Party campaign spending on campaigning to promote the party and its policies generally. For example, national newspaper adverts for the party, or leaflets explaining party policy. It also includes spending on promoting candidates at elections where the party nominates a list of candidates for a region, instead of individual candidates for local areas.
Candidate spending on campaigning to promote a particular candidate or candidates in their local area. For example, leaflets or websites that focus on one or more candidates and their views.
Different rules apply to the two types of spending.
Op-ed: In the UK election spending is strictly controlled.
If you and your campaign managers overspend criminal charges can follow.
In 2016 as the UK geared up for local council and PCC elections, and London gets set to elect a new mayor, the Tory party was in the corruption spotlight.
They failed to answer allegations of serious overspending which in theory could and should put their place in government into question.
With a slim majority the Conservative party is in a precarious position.
In 2016 26 Tory MPS were under investigation for electoral fraud by the Electoral Commission in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service; more MPs than the Tory majority.
The story appears to have died a death but the investigation rolls on.
The deadline now appears to be May 9, 2017.
So time is tight and now seems a good time to get this news back out there.
In April 2016 we reported "Allegations of election overspending look set to undermine the legitimacy of the UK Tory government but will allegations be explained away?"
Once again Channel 4 news was at the heart of allegations against the Conservative party; little wonder the government is looking at curbing Channel 4.
Early in 2015 C4 reported on the story of David Cameron's fathers' links to an off shore tax haven following it up a few months later with "George Osborne family business' £6m offshore deal"; in 2016 it has been a series of revelations that appear to indicate the Tory Party did not play fair during the 2015 General Election campaign."
In November 2015 the Mail Online claimed Channel 4 could be sold off to raise £1billion adding David Cameron confirms ministers are 'looking at all the options' for the station."
Cameron was quick to insist he was a huge fan of Channel 4 harking back to its origins; he may however not like the direction its news service is now taking.
Channel 4 investigators have uncovered a series of overspends by the Tory party during its successful 2015 General Election campaign; a lot depends on what was local spending and what national.
Channel 4 News "obtained further undeclared receipts showing more than £38,000 was spent accommodating activists at hotels across the country, as part of the BattleBus2015 campaign. The spending was not declared to the Electoral Commission in accordance with the law. The investigation has also obtained evidence that the BattleBus campaign was focused on local candidates, suggesting the accommodation costs incurred should have been declared on local candidate spending returns, if so this could constitute a criminal offence."
The Conservative party claims administrative errors or should that be incompetence? Some however will suspect purposeful wrongdoing in order to win an election at any price.
And although the Conservative party and others may try to dismiss the allegations selective overspending at elections is a criminal offence.
The typical Tory method of firstly denying allegations and then back pedalling somewhat should not save them this time, assuming the Electoral Commission and our political system is fit for purpose.
Ultimately the Conservative Party confirmed to Channel 4 News that it had failed to declare the costs related to the Battlebus hotels due to what it described as an "administrative error" despite previously stating that all of the party's returns were accurate.
While in many ways it matters whether the extra costs were actually an administrative error or the Tories flouting the rules to get their way back into government either way it looks like they have broken the law.
Will the Conservative Party run true to form trying to dig up election spending inconsistencies across parties and maybe even reforming the electoral commission and its rules to suit?
In 2016 they employed 'smear' tactics against senior members of the Labour Party helped on by some in the party and mainstream media so inclined as distraction politics.
The Electoral Commission has strict rules about election spending but does it have any teeth when it comes to wrongdoing?
"The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. It regulates party and election finance and sets standards for well-run elections. The Commission is independent of Government and answerable to Parliament" but is it?
Channel 4 News's Political Correspondent Michael Crick has spent more than three months investigating Conservative Party expenses in 2014 and 2015.
You can read how the investigation has proceeded at ElectionExpenses.co.uk.
Tories accused of disregarding election spending law
Will Electoral Commission prosecute Tory Party?