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