Tory election spending: Conservatives fined record £70,000 for failing to declare expenditure

Craig Mackinlay (right) and George Osborne during a campaign visit to Ramsgate [Image: Gareth Fuller/PA Archive].

[NOTE: This fine is separate from investigations into electoral spending fraud by individual Conservatives who were candidates in the 2015 election and subsequently became MPs.]

The Electoral Commission has fined the Conservatives £70,000 – the highest fine it has ever slapped on a political party – for failing to report accurately more than £275,000 of campaign spending.

The fine accompanied a report that compliments – but is not part of – the police investigations into alleged spending fraud in the 2015 general election. Up to 20 Tory MPs and their agents are facing potential prosecution after 12 police forces submitted files to the Crown Prosecution Service, and others may follow.

Sir John Holmes, chair of the Electoral Commission, has said he was concerned that parties would come to see such fines as “a cost of doing business” and that the commission needed to be granted powers to impose heavier fines proportionate to the levels of spending.

But the Tories have claimed the Electoral Commission’s processes and rules should be “clarified”. They’re suggesting that the fault for their failure to report more than a quarter of a million pounds of spending lies with the Commission. What utter nonsense.

The Tories said this is the first time they have been fined over their reporting of election spending. Doesn’t this suggest that the problem doesn’t lie with Electoral Commission rules, but that people have become better at spotting spending irregularities?

Oh, and the Tories have said Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been just as bad at failing to report election spending. Except, of course, those parties weren’t fined as much – so the Electoral Commission clearly disagrees. And the claim is a false argument in any case: Two ‘wrongs’ don’t make a ‘right’.

The Tories have also selectively quoted the Electoral Commission report to claim that money spent on their “battlebus” campaign was a national – not a local – expense:

“The Electoral Commission report makes clear that our interpretation of the guidance was correct, stating: ‘The Commission has found no evidence to suggest that the party had funded the Battlebus2015 campaign with the intention that it would promote or procure the electoral success of candidates’ (para. 106).”

But in fact the Commission said that “Battlebus” campaign had made it possible for local campaigning to occur as part of an ostensibly “national” campaign scheme, because the report continues as follows [bolding mine]:

“Nevertheless, coaches of activists were transported to marginal constituencies to campaign alongside or in close proximity to local campaigners. In the commission’s view, there was a clear and inherent risk that activists might engage in candidate campaigning. Further, it is apparent that candidate campaigning did take place during the Battlebus 2015 campaign.

There is no evidence to show that either during the campaign or during the compilation of the spending return consideration was given to whether this had occurred. Instead, the party stated that it was “assumed, but not expressly discussed,” that spending on the activity would be reported in the party’s campaign spending return. Consequently an inaccurate assumption was made that the full spending should be reported by the party.

The commission cannot determine from the available evidence what proportion of spending on the Battlebus 2015 campaign activity was properly party spending and what was candidate campaign expenditure. This is in large part because no records were kept to show how spending was apportioned, despite the fact that PPERA required spending on the party campaign to be reported separately from any spending the party undertook on behalf of its candidate. Nonetheless the commission is satisfied that a proportion of the reported spending was candidate campaign spending and should not have been included in the Party’s return. That proportion was also, as a result of this, not included in any relevant candidate’s campaign expenses return, casting doubt on the accuracy of those returns.”

This is evidence against the candidates and their agents who are facing the possibility of prosecution for electoral fraud.

The Electoral Commission’s report states that the Tories may have gained a “financial advantage” over their opponents in key seats because of over-spending. This is against the law.

And the Commission has disputed Tory claims that the party “complied fully” with its investigation. Claire Bassett, the Commission’s chief executive, reminded us all that the Commission had to seek a court order for the information at one point, (during a Today programme interview).

There is no way the Tories can make themselves look good in this matter.

The Electoral Commission has fined them more than anybody else has ever been fined, for failing to declare more than anybody else has ever been found to have failed to declare.

‘National’ spending has been mixed with ‘candidate’ spending, meaning the Tories may have gained an illegal financial advantage over their opponents in important battleground seats.

And the Tories have lied to the public today about the meaning of the Electoral Commission’s findings.

With investigations into electoral spending by individual Conservative MPs still ongoing, this information casts further, serious doubt on their claims of innocence.

The Conservative party has been fined a record £70,000 and its former treasurer reported to police after an Electoral Commission investigation found “significant failures” by the party to report its campaign spending.

The commission, which has conducted its own inquiry separate from the police, concluded some election spending was wrongly apportioned to the national party rather than candidates – the crux of the police investigation into MPs and their agents.

The commission found the party failed to declare or accurately report more than £275,000 of campaign spending at three byelections in 2014 and at the 2015 general election.

The spending return for the UK general election was missing payments worth at least £104,765 and payments worth up to £118,124 were either not reported to the commission or were incorrectly reported by the party. Invoices and receipts were missing for £52,924 worth of payments.

Simon Day, the then registered treasurer of the party, had failed to ensure that spending was accurately reported, committing two offences under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the commission said. One of those offences had been reported to the Metropolitan police.

Source: Conservatives fined record £70,000 for campaign spending failures | Politics | The Guardian

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11 thoughts on “Tory election spending: Conservatives fined record £70,000 for failing to declare expenditure

  1. Franklin Percival

    Will someone please gently take Ms Soubry aside and explain to her that underspending is not a criminal offence under UK electoral law.

    Anna Soubry MP‏Verified account

    I hope @BBCr4today reports that the Conservative Party UNDERSPENT by £2million on the 2015 GE national campaign

    Jalil Bongo OndimbaPeter BedfordAidan ReynoldsNicholas MazzeiDoubtingThomMouseMal SimonsAvaH70Union JackHeather Marshall
    8:13 AM – 16 Mar 2017

  2. NMac

    I expect some wealthy donor, who objects to paying money in taxes to benefit society as a whole, but who doesn’t mind parting with money to a crooked political party, will soon pay this money. Its going to be the prosecutions that are going to be the real crunch for these fraudsters.

  3. Martin Odoni

    ‘The Tories have claimed the Electoral Commission’s processes and rules should be “clarified”.’

    I’m reminded of sports stars who complain about referees/umpires having a different ‘interpretation of the rules’, which in practice means, “We’re not sure exactly how dirty we can get away with playing.” The Tories need to take a more honest approach, starting with, “If we’re not sure we’re allowed to do it, we shouldn’t do it.” Logically, if you’re not sure it’s allowed, it’s likely to be something that shouldn’t be anyway, and so morally you should avoid it, full-stop.

  4. Rusty

    Grab power by cheating! 12 seats, that’s their majority gone!!! Someone should go to prison for this crime!

  5. chriskitcher

    Very paltry fine when you consider this crime resulted in £250,000 excess spend. It should be a multiple of the excess, say 5 or 10x. Otherwise they will use it to buy votes on the cheap.

  6. Signortbf


    The EC identified TWO separate breaches here, wrongly declaring expenses as national & not local AND failing to declare other spending at all.

    If they accept the fine, regardless of the spin, they accept their guilt, same as with your or I accepting a fixed-penalty speeding fine. And that………

    means, if the original figures published over a year ago from the EC suggest 6-8 MP’s overspent, the burden of proof will legally lie(what an appropriate word!) with the Tories to show all those activists were local bods who didn’t stay overnight, etc. Because, legally, they have admitted guilt and, as with the Court of Appeal, that guilt is presumed until fresh evidence is produced to show otherwise.

    What do you think?


  7. marcusdemowbray

    It seems highly likely to me that Tory fraud and corruption is much greater than any other Party’s equivalent, possibly as great as that f all other Parties added together. It already does seem likely to me that this Government is illegitimate.

  8. Dez

    Liars and political thieves with no integrity or sense of winning by fair play….no wonder they did a self employed turnaround (postponement) rather than take another liars hit for breaking their tax pledge. Lower than the low party.

  9. Rose

    A representative from the Electoral Commission stated on Channel 4 News that this was the maximum fine possible and said the Commission would be recommending that fines and penalties be massively increased because, as is, they were not severe enough to properly discourage underhand behaviour and fraud committed by political parties.

Comments are closed.