Tories fined over election spending
David Cameron’s 2015 campaign is facing scrutiny.
The British Conservative Party has been fined a record £70,000 (€80,500) and its former treasurer reported to the police after a probe found “significant failures” campaign spending reporting for its successful 2015 campaign.
After a year-long investigation, the Electoral Commission found the Tories failed to declare or accurately report more than £275,000 of campaign spending at three by-elections in 2014 or during the 2015 general election.
The commission threatened to take the party to court because of delays in releasing the records.
The fine reflected the party’s “unreasonable, uncooperative conduct” during the probe and because its actions led to “realistic prospect of its candidates gaining a financial advantage over opponents”.
Up to 20 Conservative MPs and agents are now under investigation by the police for potential breaking election spending limits.
It is significant that the commission’s conclusion that a portion of the party’s spending nationally was used not for its overall message but to promote individual candidates.
This included the Battlebus2015, which took activists around target seats to campaign and picked up the bill.
The election watchdog ruled that candidates should have partially declared some items recorded as national spending, including the expenses of activists transported in to campaign in vital marginal seats and with party teams sent to help organise in South Thanet, where the Tories were being challenged by then Ukip leader, Nigel Farage.
Both the opposition Labour and the Lib Dems failed to declare tens of thousands of pounds of general election spending and both paid fines of £20,000.
The Electoral Commission is only authorised to examine national spending, while the police can examine spending on individual campaigns in each campaign to ensure it was within legal limits of between about £11,000 and £16,000, depending on the size of the constituency.
Twelve separate police forces have passed files to the Crown Prosecution Service over claims that Conservative MPs under-declared the amount spent during their campaigns. Prosecutors now have to decide whether to charge the parliamentarians or their agents.
The party put the charges down to a “reporting error” and claim that “political parties of all colours have made reporting mistakes from time to time”. “[The party] has always taken the view that its nationally directed Battlebus campaign – a highly-publicised and visible activity with national branding – was part of its national return,” a Conservative spokesman said.
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