Electoral Commission
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Conservative Party fined £70,000 following investigation into election campaign expenses

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 the Party’s 2014 European Parliamentary election campaign spending return was a complete statement and whether any spending incurred campaigning at three Parliamentary by-elections in 2014 should have been included in the Party’s spending return.
  • Whether the Party’s 2015 UK Parliamentary general election campaign spending return was a complete statement, considering;
    • Whether campaign costs incurred at three Parliamentary by-elections in 2014 should have been included in the Party return
    • 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.
  • Whether there was any evidence to suggest that the Party’s registered treasurer may have knowingly or recklessly made a false declaration of accuracy with respect to both spending returns.

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:

  • there was no evidence that the Party’s spending return for the 2014 European Parliamentary election was incomplete;
  • it is likely that expense returns delivered by Party candidates at three Parliamentary by-elections during 2014 understated the value of the Party’s spending on their campaigns;
  • on three instances in 2014, relating to the said three Parliamentary by-elections, Mr Day as registered treasurer failed to ensure that the Party’s accounting records were sufficient to adequately show and explain the Party’s transactions with the candidates and/or their agents, as required by section 41 of PPERA;
  • the Party’s 2015 UK Parliamentary General Election spending return was not a complete statement of its campaign spending payments, as required by section 80(3) of PPERA. Mr Day had included payments that were not Party campaign spending and omitted other Party campaign payments; and
  • the Party’s 2015 UK Parliamentary General Election spending return also failed to include all the required invoices and receipts associated with the Party’s campaign spending that were required by section 80(3) of PPERA. The Commission has also referred one matter relating to section 83(3) of PPERA to the Metropolitan Police Service. Section 83(3) required the Party’s treasurer to declare that he has examined the return and that to the best of his knowledge and belief, the return was complete and correct as required by law. A declaration to that effect was delivered alongside its spending return. The investigation established that the Party’s general election return was neither complete nor correct, and the evidence gathered during the course of the investigation has given the Commission reason to suspect that an offence may have been committed.  Knowingly or recklessly making a false declaration under this section of the Act is a criminal offence and falls outside the remit of the Commission’s civil sanctioning powers. It will be a matter for the police as to what steps they take following the Commission’s referral. For further details of the investigation and its findings, the Commission has published a full report which can be viewed on its website here:

http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/222935/Report-in-respect-of-the-Conservative-and-Unionist-Party.pdf

For more information please contact Megan Phillips in the Electoral Commission press office on 0207 271 0714 or mphillips@electoralcommission.org.ukOut of office hours: 07789 920414

Notes to editors:

  1. The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. We work to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity. The Commission was set up in 2000 and reports to the UK and Scottish Parliaments.
  2. The Electoral Commission has a range of enforcement powers under PPERA. For more information on the regulatory work of the Commission see the website here.
  3. Any potential breaches of the rules which regulate political party funding are considered in line with the Commission's enforcement policy which can be accessed here, details of sanctions issued can be found here.
  4. An individual or organisation that is issued with a sanction by the Electoral Commission has 28 days to appeal that decision. Any such appeal is made to the County Court.
  5. Unpaid fines will increase by 50% if not paid within 56 days of being imposed. After a further 28 days we may take action to obtain payment through the courts using the debt recovery process.
  6. Any penalties that are imposed by the Commission go into the Consolidated Fund. This is managed by HM Treasury and not the Electoral Commission.
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