Electoral Commission statement on allegations regarding Conservative Party spending return for 2015 General ElectionNews release published: 28-04-2016
The Electoral Commission has today (28 April) announced that as part of the investigation launched on 18 February 2016 into Conservative Party campaign spending returns, it has requested that the Crown (CPS) Prosecution Service and the police consider applying for an extension to the time limit available to pursue criminal prosecutions.
Representatives of the CPS, the Police and the Electoral Commission are meeting on Wednesday 4 May to discuss this request. The final decision to apply for an extension will rest with the police and the CPS.
Bob Posner, Director of Party and Election Finance & Legal Counsel at the Electoral Commission said,
“The police and the CPS both have the power to apply to the Courts to extend the time limit on bringing criminal prosecutions for electoral offences to allow for full investigations to take place. We have requested that they consider doing this.”
Why the Commission has made its request
The rules around candidate spending and potential criminal offences are matters for the police to investigate under the Representation of the People Act (RPA) 1983. The Commission’s request does not mean that it has any view on whether criminal charges should be brought, but that the CPS and the police should consider whether it would be appropriate to leave open to themselves the option of pursuing cases if they consider this is necessary at any stage.
The Commission has highlighted to police forces that true and accurate candidate spending returns had to be delivered to constituency returning officers within 35 days of the result of the UK Parliamentary General elections on 7 May 2015; and the ability to prosecute these allegations will end one year on from an offence being committed unless an application is made by the police to the Courts for an extension, which is allowed under the RPA. It is also open to the CPS, via the Director of Public Prosecutions to make such an application to the courts, which is why the Commission has requested that such action be considered.
Transparency and accountability in relation to campaign spending by local candidates and political parties is essential in order to ensure public confidence in the electoral process. Parliament has determined that anyone found guilty of an offence under the RPA relating to candidate spending or the making of a false declaration in relation to candidate spending, could face imprisonment of up to one year, and or an unlimited fine. The effect of a conviction is also that for 3 years a person convicted of an illegal practice is unable to be elected to the House of Commons or to hold elective office. Given the significant penalties that parliament has made available for such offences, the Commissions view is that in the absence of any current investigation by the police, it would be sensible for the criminal justice agencies to retain the ability to take action should appropriate evidence come to light as part of the Commission’s own investigation.
The Commission’s investigation
The Electoral Commission is currently investigating whether the Conservative Party met their reporting obligations under the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000, at the General Election in May 2015 and in the by-elections held in Newark, Clacton and Rochester and Strood, which all took place during the regulated period for the General Election.
The priority of the Electoral Commission is to conduct a fair and thorough investigation and the time taken to complete an investigation varies on a case-by-case basis depending on factors including the complexity of the offence, the amount of material we are required to consider or whether interviews are necessary. Once the investigation is complete, the Commission will be able to decide whether any breaches have occurred and if so what further action, if any, may be appropriate. The Commission does not currently anticipate that its own investigation will have concluded before the time limit for RPA offences to be considered by the police will have expired.
The Commission monitors and takes all reasonable steps to secure compliance with the rules on campaign spending by local party candidates, but has no powers to investigate or sanction candidate spending offences under the RPA. We have recently called again for our powers in this area to be strengthened.
The Commission does have powers in relation to national campaign spending although our sanctioning powers are limited to a civil penalty of up to £20,000, which we have previously recommended should be reviewed and increased. The Government has not yet responded to this recommendation.
For more information contact Megan Phillips at the Electoral Commission Press Office on 0207 271 0704 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Out of office hours 07789 920 414
Notes to editors
NOTE: There is a one year time limit on prosecutions which could be one reason for smears and delays. NEWTEKWORLD has been told Monday that a meeting is planned for Wednesday: the Electoral Commission will make the case that the Police and or the CPS should apply to a court to waive the time limit. (Apparently the EC can't do it). If they agree, there can be a full criminal investigation.
Watch out for the massive dead cat on the table on Wednesday to knock it off the headlines.
More revelations Thursday as the saga continues but when will the Electoral Commission act?
Op-ed: Allegations of election overspending look set to undermine the legitimacy of the UK Tory government but will allegations be explained away?
Once again Channel 4 news is at the heart of allegations against the Conservative party. Early in 2015 they broke the story of David Cameron's fathers' links to an off shore tax haven following it up a few months later with "George Osborne family business' £6m offshore deal"; in 2016 it has been a series of revelations that appear to indicate the Tory Party did not play fair during the 2015 General Election campaign.
Maybe that is why in November 2015, according to the Mail Online, "Channel 4 could be sold off to raise £1billion: Cameron confirms ministers are 'looking at all the options' for station." Cameron was quick to insist he was a huge fan of Channel 4 harking back to its origins; he may however not like the direction its news service is now taking.
Channel 4 investigators have uncovered a series of overspends by the Tory party during its successful 2015 General Election campaign; a lot depends on what was local spending and what national.
Wednesday Jon Snow was in the TV studio with nine empty chairs as those accused opted not to take part. But there is every chance the corruption runs deeper than just nine people.
[Thursday evening Channel 4 news had 24 empty chairs to represent the number of Tory MPs accused of election overspending and invited on to the show. The invitation was extended to the Labour party too but no person or persons agreed to take part}
"Channel 4 News has obtained further undeclared receipts showing more than £38,000 was spent accommodating activists at hotels across the country, as part of the BattleBus2015 campaign. The spending was not declared to the Electoral Commission in accordance with the law. The investigation has also obtained evidence that the BattleBus campaign was focused on local candidates, suggesting the accommodation costs incurred should have been declared on local candidate spending returns, if so this could constitute a criminal offence."
The Conservative party claims administrative errors or should that be incompetence though some will suspect purposeful wrongdoing in order to win an election at any price.
And although the Conservative party and others may try to dismiss the allegations selective overspending at elections is a criminal offence.
The typical Tory method of firstly denying allegations and then back pedalling somewhat should not save them this time, assuming the Electoral Commission and our political system is fit for purpose.
"The Conservative Party today confirmed to Channel 4 News that it had failed to declare the costs related to the Battlebus hotels due to what it described as an "administrative error" despite previously stating that all of the party's returns were accurate."
While in many ways it matters whether the extra costs were actually an administrative error or the Tories flouting the rules to get their way back into government either way it looks like they have broken the law.
Will the Conservative Party run true to form trying to dig up election spending inconsistencies a cross parties and maybe even reforming the electoral commission and its rules to suit?
The Electoral Commission has strict rules about election spending but does it have any teeth when it comes to wrongdoing?
So "The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. It regulates party and election finance and sets standards for well-run elections. The Commission is independent of Government and answerable to Parliament" but is it?
Channel 4 News's Political Correspondent Michael Crick has spent more than three months investigating Conservative Party expenses in 2014 and 2015.
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