This is confirmation of what we knew already – see This Site’s previous article.
It will be interesting to see what the police do with the Electoral Commission’s referral.
My guess is that, as big-name Tory MPs Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were involved, the police will let them off without any real attempt at investigation.
I look forward – sceptically – to being proved wrong.
Vote Leave has been fined £61,000 and reported to the police by the Electoral Commission, after the watchdog found “significant evidence” of coordination with another campaign group, BeLeave.
The watchdog said it had imposed punitive fines on Vote Leave because it said the group had refused to cooperate fully with its investigation and declined to be interviewed. Its former chief executive, Matthew Elliott, had previously alleged it was the Electoral Commission that had refused to cooperate. Vote Leave called the findings “wholly inaccurate”.
The commission’s long-awaited report said it had found evidence BeLeave spent more than £675,000 with data firm Aggregate IQ coordinated with Vote Leave, which should have been declared by the Brexit campaign group.
Vote Leave, which was the official designated campaign for Britain leaving the EU during the referendum fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, exceeded its legal spending limit of £7m by almost £500,000, the watchdog found.
Darren Grimes, the founder of BeLeave, and the Vote Leave official David Halsall have been reported to the police. Vote Leave has been fined £61,000 and Grimes £20,000.
The commission said it had shared its investigation files with the Metropolitan police to investigate whether any other offences had been committed outside the watchdog’s remit.
Arron Banks: He says the decision to fine Leave.EU was “politically-motivate” – but wasn’t the organisation’s overspend more likely to have happened for that reason?
If there’s one thing the fining of Leave.EU proves, it is that the result of the European Union referendum is meaningless.
This organisation, which has close ties to UKIP, abused electoral spending limits, racking up an “unlawful overspend” of at least £77,380.
It received services from US campaign strategists Goddard Gunster that were not included in its spending return, despite some of them having been used during the referendum campaign.
But Cambridge Analytica, which repeatedly tried to obtain work from Leave.EU, was found not to have provided any because the organisation did not support promises it had made.
Leave.EU inaccurately reported three loans it had received from companies controlled by co-founder Arron Banks.
And Leave.EU failed to provide the required invoice or receipt for 97 payments of over £200, totalling £80,224.
Those are big breaches; apparently the Electoral Commission would have made its fine larger but was restricted by a legal cap on the amount it could demand.
Mr Banks has responded by accusing the Electoral Commission of launching a “politically-motivated” attack against Brexit.
He made a series of ad hominem attacks – targeting the Commission and its members rather than any of its findings.
So: “The Electoral Commission is a ‘Blairite swamp creation’ packed full of establishment ‘remoaners’ that couldn’t quite make it to the House of Lords.”
What a charmer.
Leave.EU wanted to be the official pro-Brexit campaign in the EU referendum but lost out to Vote Leave. This meant it was restricted to a budget of £700,000 in the final weeks of the campaign while Vote Leave was able to spend £7 million.
But Vote Leave, which was supported by Conservative and some Labour MPs, is also facing an Electoral Commission investigation, into whether it also breached campaign finance rules by funnelling cash to other pro-Brexit groups.
The only conclusion we can draw from these shananigans is that the Leave campaign rode roughshod over the rules in an attempt to illegally influence UK citizens into voting ‘Leave’.
We don’t know how many of the 17.4 million who called for the country to exit the EU were unduly influenced in this way. Even a tiny variation could have made a huge difference to the result, which was extremely close.
This means the decision to leave the European Union is unlikely to be legitimate and the only reason it is being pushed through now is that certain politicians got the result they wanted.
This Writer reckons they believe they will profit from it, and couldn’t care less if the country as a whole suffers.
Who are they? I suppose we’ll have to see who does profit from it.
Leave.EU has been fined £70,000 and its chief executive has been referred to the Metropolitan police after the Electoral Commission found it had breached multiple counts of electoral law during the referendum to leave the European Union.
The investigation found that Leave.EU, which was co-founded by Arron Banks, unlawfully exceeded its statutory spending limit by at least 10% and delivered incomplete and inaccurate spending and transaction returns.
The group campaign chief, Liz Bilney, one of Banks’s closest associates, faces a police investigation. The commission said it had reasonable grounds to suspect she “knowingly or recklessly signed a false declaration accompanying the Leave.EU referendum spending return”.
Ex-party leaders Tim Farron and David Cameron campaigning for a Remain vote [Image: PA Images].
Sauce for the goose…
We already know that Arron Banks, millionaire supporter of the Leave.EU campaign, has been under investigation over millions of pounds in donation to Leave-supporting organisations that may be in breach of electoral rules.
Britain Stronger in Europe has now been fined, along with the Liberal Democrats.
And now Vote Leave is under investigation as well.
It seems most of the major players in the referendum campaign played fast and loose with the spending rules. How disappointing.
It seems nobody believed they could sway the public with the strength of a good argument alone.
And how many of the arguments were good?
Most, if not all, of the Leave campaign claims have been proved false. Perhaps that is why campaigners for that cause overspent.
And the remainers? They included David Cameron (and Tim Farron) among their number.
Perhaps they thought they needed to overspend in order to overcome the handicap that this represented.
Election watchdogs have fined the official Remain campaign and the Liberal Democrats thousands of pounds for breaching election spending rules in the EU referendum.
The Lib Dems were slapped with an £18,000 penalty for failing to submit correct spending returns for some £80,000 of funds it spent urging voters not to support Leave.
Official Remain campaign Britain Stronger in Europe – since re-named Open Britain – was also hit with a £1,250 fine for incorrect spending returns.
It comes after the Electoral Commission launched a fresh probe into whether the official Leave campaign broke spending limits in the referendum.
Questions have been raised over hundreds of thousands of pounds Vote Leave gave to a fashion student who then handed the cash over to a data analytics firm.
Ed Miliband has Labour’s six election pledges inscribed in stone – then Iain McNicol failed to list it as an election expense.
How will Labour’s right-wingers manage to blame Jeremy Corbyn for this?
Seriously, the fine raises further concerns about the party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, at a time when his conduct is already being questioned in relation to his role in the ‘purge’ of members prior to the leadership election that ended in September.
Let’s not forget, also that a much larger investigation, involving dozens of police forces, is looking into the possibility that many Conservative MPs overspent their way into Parliament and failed to declare it.
The findings of that inquiry may render this fine insignificant and could even topple the Conservative government’s precarious 12-seat majority in the House of Commons.
That is something to remember when perusing press coverage of both investigations.
Or, as this Twitter user put it:
The exact journalists who ignored the entire Tory Election Fraud Scandal are now the ones tweeting furiously about Labour election fraud.
Labour has been fined £20,000 by the Electoral Commission, the largest imposed by the body in its history, for undeclared election spending during the 2015 campaign, including more than £7,000 on the so-called “Ed Stone”.
The commission launched an investigation into two payments totalling £7,614 missing from the party’s election return that were spent on the stone tablet on which then Labour leader, Ed Miliband, had carved his six key election pledges, promising to display it in the Downing Street rose garden if he won the election.
The problems with the party’s spending came to light when the commission published the return in January, and journalists immediately contacted the commission because they could not find any reference to the 8ft 6in, two-tonne slab of limestone. The commission then found the item was indeed missing from the return, and began a full inquiry.
After the commission launched its investigation, the party undertook an internal review, unearthing 24 other undeclared election expenses totalling £109,777.
However, the commission’s investigation then identified 49 further missing payments totalling £11,357 that related to the transport of the party’s activists on the Labour Express tour and Labour Students tour during the election.
The commission also found invoices were missing from the Labour party’s return, with 33 bills totalling £34,392 absent from the accounts.
The commission said Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, who is also its registered treasurer, had committed two election offences, involving missing payments of £123,748 from the campaign spending return and for failing to deliver invoices and receipts of more than £200 for payments totalling £34,392.
Candidates in the general election will have 23 per cent more money to spend after the Tories slipped the increase through without debate. This only applies if any candidates other than Tories actually have that much money, of course.
The Observer has reported that, under the new limits, the total amount the candidates of each political party can spend has increased from £26.5m to £32.7m.
In March, the Electoral Commission recommended there should be no such increase in spending limits for candidates over the so-called “long campaign” period between December 19 and general election day on May 7.
The change to the law on candidates’ election spending, passed without parliamentary debate, was made despite a direct warning by the commission against “excessive spending” in order to “prevent the perception of undue influence over the outcome of the election”.
Ministers changed the law through a statutory instrument, the terms of which were not debated in the Commons, which is used more properly for consensual changes in the law. A Labour source said the move had not been spotted by them at the time, so they missed the chance to force a vote in the Commons.
It’s too late for that now.
We know the Conservatives have much more moolah than any of the other parties – let’s face it, they have spent all of their period in office changing the law to make it possible for the extremely rich and big businesses to donate increasingly ludicrous amounts to Tory Party funds, and this is the reason.
For example: In the past four years, 27 per cent of the £78,010,807 the Tories have raised – £21,072,508 – has come from hedge fund donors. George Osborne’s 2013 budget abolished stamp duty reserve tax on funds, a £145m giveaway to those very same hedge funds. That’s just one example.
The Observer states: “With the Tories having amassed a £78m war chest over the past four years, they can now funnel huge amounts of cash into key seats.”
We know that the Tories won more seats than anyone else at the 2010 election by throwing ridiculous amounts of Lord Ashcroft’s money at marginal seats and by lying about their policy intentions. This undemocratic move – there was no Parliamentary debate and one can hardly say it has been announced loudly; did you even know this decision was made in the summer? – clearly states their intention to repeat the same grubby, underhanded manoeuvre next year.
And we know that David Cameron has made this decision against the advice of the Electoral Commission – meaning that it should be plain for all to see that this is yet another corrupt decision by the most corrupt government of the last century.
What else are we to think of this? Lucy Powell MP, Ed Miliband’s election strategist, had a few well-chosen ideas on that subject. Writing in The Guardian, she stated:
“With only a record of failure to run on, David Cameron’s campaign is reliant on smear, fear and fat cats’ chequebooks. This is a party flush with big money backers but without the empathy or ideas the country needs, so they are rigging the rules of our democracy in their favour.
“When he was first leader of the opposition, David Cameron said he wanted to take the big money out of politics. He promised to address the ‘big donor culture’, arguing that we should ‘cut what is spent on a general election’. Yet he has now cynically changed his tune. Desperate to hang on to power, the Tories have quietly changed the rules to allow them to spend big in the runup to the election. The changes would allow them to spend millions more than they’re presently allowed, paving the way for Tory propaganda to flood constituencies.”
Opponents of Tory tyranny cannot match the Nasty Party’s spending power. All we have are our own voices and the facts.
That’s why next year – more than ever before – we have to put the message out to protect the public against the next wave of lies and ‘spin’.
The Tory Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act means we can’t spend any appreciable amount of money doing this, but they can’t stop us talking and they can’t stop us publicising the facts.
It’s up to us – all of us – to show the Tories that money isn’t everything.
Public opinion on lobbyists: Note the proximity of the words “corrupt”, “cheats” and “influential”. [Picture stolen from PR Week]
A Parliamentary Bill designed to prevent free speech by gagging political commentators, and to enable the ‘blacklisting’ of trade union members by having their names registered, has won the favour of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs this evening.
They voted to allow the inappropriately-titled ‘Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’ to proceed to its committee stage after a debate today (Tuesday).
That stage will last for only a few days, during which it will be examined by a ‘committee of the whole House’ – in other words, the Bill is being guillotined; hurried through Parliament in order to get it onto the statute books after the least possible scrutiny. It seems that the government has something to hide.
Could it be the fact that the Electoral Commission, the organisation that would enforce the Bill’s provisions if it is passed into law, has made it perfectly clear that it is an attempt to stifle political commentary from organisations and individuals: “The Bill creates significant regulatory uncertainty for large and small organisations that campaign on, or even discuss, public policy issues in the year before the…general election, and imposes significant new burdens on such organisations”?
Could it be the fact that new regulations for trade unions mean members could be blacklisted – denied jobs simply because of their membership?
Could it be the fact that the measures against lobbyists – the Bill’s apparent reason for existing – are expected to do nothing to hinder Big Money’s access to politicians, and in fact is likely to accelerate the process, turning Parliamentarians into corporate poodles?
If so, then the attempt has failed, because all of these, and more, were discussed in today’s debate.
But don’t worry – we have the assurances of Andrew Lansley, Leader of the House of Commons, to keep us from losing sleep over it. The man who asked us to believe his so-called reform of the National Health Service would not lead to wholesale privatisation – and look at it now – took a telling question from Glenda Jackson, early in his opening speech.
She said the Bill “has created almost a fire-storm in my constituency. My constituents are appalled at what they regard as a gagging Bill. They wish to see a list of lobbyists that is transparent to ensure that Government cannot be bought — even though that is a debatable issue. They know that the Bill as it stands would prevent democratic voices from being heard.”
Mr Lansley’s response: “I look forward to the Honourable Lady having an opportunity after today’s debate to go back to her constituents, to tell them that the things they are alarmed about will not happen.”
Let’s hold him to that, shall we? Bear in mind that lying to Parliament is an expulsion offence, even if this particular government does not enforce it. David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith have already defied Parliamentary convention by telling appalling untruths to their fellow MPs and walking back to their jobs; now it seems likely Mr Lansley may have done the same.
High on the list of opposition MPs’ concerns was the fact that the Bill does nothing to prevent lobbyists working directly for commercial concerns from approaching government ministers and trying to influence them.
“Recent freedom of information requests reveal that Treasury officials met fracking industry representatives 19 times in the last 10 months about their generous tax breaks, yet the public are denied any further details of that lobbying on the grounds that it could prejudice commercial interests,” said Green MP Caroline Lucas. “Is the Leader of the House not ashamed that this Bill will drastically curtail the ability of charities to campaign in the public interest on issues such as fuel poverty and energy but do nothing to curb such secretive corporate influencing?”
And Labour’s Chris Bryant had a query of his own: “Every single member of the public affairs team in-house at BSkyB will be able to visit as many Ministers as they want and every single lawyer employed by BSkyB to advance its case will be able to do so without any need to register. The only person who would have to register would be an independent consultant in a company that solely lobbies. How does that possibly afford greater transparency?”
Mr Lansley’s response: “It promotes transparency because if a representative of Sky visits a Minister in order to discuss that business, it is transparent that they are doing so in order to represent the interests of Sky. However, if somebody from ‘XYZ Corporation’, a consultant lobbying firm, visits a Minister in order to discuss somebody else’s business but it is not transparent through the ministerial diary publication who they are representing, that is not transparent. We propose to remedy that by making it transparent.”
Oh, well that’s all right then.
No it isn’t! It’s the complete opposite of all right! Where the public wanted a curb on corporations corruptly influencing the government, it is instead offering to rub that influence in our faces!
“This is one of the worst Bills that I have seen any Government produce in a very long time,” said Lansley’s shadow, Angela Eagle. The last Bill this bad might even have been the Health and Social Care Act 2012, and the Leader of the House of Commons had his fingerprints all over that one, too… This Bill is hurried, badly drafted and an agglomeration of the inadequate, the sinister and the partisan. From a Government who solemnly promised that they would fix our broken politics, the Bill will do the complete opposite.
“The Bill can best be summed up as furious displacement activity by a Government who hope that the public will not notice their problems with lobbying… they are trying to ram through their gag on charities and campaigners… so that they are silenced in time for the next general election, and they are trying to avoid the scrutiny that will show the public what a disgrace the Bill is.”
She said: “Three and a half years ago the Prime Minister, when Leader of the Opposition, told us that lobbying was the next big scandal waiting to happen. He did not tell us then that he was going to do nothing about it for over three years but survive a series of lobbying scandals and then produce a Bill so flawed that it would actually make things worse.
“Under the Government’s definition, someone will count as a lobbyist only if they lobby, directly, Ministers or permanent secretaries and if their business is mainly for the purposes of lobbying. It is estimated that that will cover less than one-fifth of those people currently working in the £2 billion lobbying industry, and the Association of Professional Political Consultants estimates that only one per cent of ministerial meetings organised by lobbyists would be covered.
“It would be extremely easy to rearrange how such lobbying is conducted to evade the need to appear on the new register at all. The Bill is so narrow that it would fail to cover not only the lobbyist currently barnacle-scraping at the heart of Number 10 [Lynton Crosby], but any of the lobbying scandals that have beset the Prime Minister in this Parliament.
“There is a real risk that the proposals will make lobbying less transparent than it is now. The Government’s proposed register would cover fewer lobbyists than the existing, voluntary, register run by the UK Public Affairs Council.”
Moving on to part two of the Bill, she said, “In one of the most sinister bits of legislation that I have seen in some time, this Bill twists the rules on third-party campaigning to scare charities and campaigners away from speaking out. It is an assault on the Big Society that the Prime Minister once claimed to revere… It is clear that these changes will have wide-ranging implications for many hundreds of charities and campaigners, local and national, large and small.
“Some of them have told us that they will have to pull back from almost all engagement in debates on public policy in the year before the election. These changes have created massive uncertainty for those who may fall within the regulations in a way that the Electoral Commission has deplored.
“The changes will mean that third-party campaigning will be restricted even if it was not intended to affect the outcome of an election — for example, engaging in public policy debate. Staff costs and overheads will also have to be included in what has to be declared — something that does not apply in this way to political parties. The Electoral Commission has said that these changes could have a ‘dampening effect’ on public debate. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has said that the changes will ‘have the result of muting charities and groups of all sorts and sizes on the issues that matter most to them and the people that they support’.”
And on part three, which centres on trade union membership records, she said, “There appears to be no policy motive for the introduction of this new law other than as a vehicle for cheap, partisan attacks on the trade unions, of which only a minority are actually affiliated to the Labour party.
“Officials from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have been totally unable to explain the problem that this part of the Bill is designed to solve. During a belated consultation meeting with the TUC — it took place after the Bill had been published — BIS officials could cast no light on why part three exists at all. Nor were they able to explain the origin of these proposals beyond their oft-repeated mantra that the provisions contained in part three ‘came out of a high level meeting between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister’. I think that revelation tells us all we need to know about the grubby, partisan nature of the measures.
“These proposals seem deliberately designed to burden trade unions with additional cost and bureaucracy from a Government who claim they are against red tape. This is despite the fact that unions already have a statutory duty to maintain registers of members. I understand from the TUC that neither the certification officer nor ACAS has made any representations to suggest that that was not already sufficient. The Government have to date failed to provide any evidence or rationale for these changes, so I can only conclude that this is a deliberate attempt to hamper unions with red tape because a minority of them have the temerity to support the Labour party.”
And she said: “I have serious concerns about the implications of these changes for the security of membership data. We all know that the blacklisting of trade union members may well still exist in our country. Blacklisting has ruined many lives and these changes could have some very dangerous implications, especially in the construction industry, where many are afraid to declare their membership of a trade union openly for fear of the repercussions.”
And Graham Allen, Chair of the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform, lambasted the Bill. He said: “If someone wanted to do O-level politics on how to produce or not to produce a Bill, I am sorry, but this Bill would be an F — a fail, big time.
“Read the evidence from the Electoral Commission when I publish it in 48 hours’ time. It is damning evidence from people who should really all be on the same side to ensure this provision will happen.
“We should listen to people. Let us have some consultation; let Parliament do its job, smoke out some of the issues and attempt to resolve them. I have a fantastic all-party committee and we could do that job for Parliament, yet those things have been resolutely held at arm’s length.
“Perversely, we are trying to make a Bill that divides rather than keeps people together.”
It isn’t perverse at all. That is precisely the point of it.
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