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Monday, October 06, 2008

Tories did not break electoral law

The decision by the Electoral Commission to clear the Conservative party of breaking electoral law by using a commercial company as a front to provide millions of pounds of services to Tories fighting marginal seats is no surprise.

After all the Labour Party's argument that the scale of pre-election donations, running in excess of £1m, to the centre would have meant the Conservative party had broken electoral law by breaching legally binding spending limits when it fought the 2005 general election is nonsense. The law is very clear as to when and in what circumstances spending limits kick in for elections and general campaigning outside of an election period does not count. If it did then it would be necessary to count MP's Communications Allowance in this calculation.

What is more disturbing about this decision is that it may enable donors to hide their identity by chanelling funds through a limited company that is itself a 'regulated donee'. The Labour spokesperson was absolutely right to question how this decision impacts on transparency in the political process, however I am not so sure that the Electoral Commission has the tools to do anything about it.

It seems to me that the Tories have found a loophole in the law that can only be closed by more legislation. Nobody has the stomach for that at the moment, especially given the government's track record in not understanding the political process that elects it, as is evident from the legislation that set up the Electoral Commission in the first place.
"general campaigning outside of an election period does not count"

Not true - if the expenditure is undertaken by an accounting unit of a party it counts towards its national campaign spending limit in the 12 months prior to the General/European/Scottish Parliment/Welsh Assembly election - PPERA is explicit on this point. If CCS had been deemed to be part of the Conservative Party - then the Tories would almost certainly have breached the national spending limit for the 2005 General Election.

MPs Communication Allowances are limited in their use - and should not in theory be used for overt political campaigning.

Donors should not be able to hide their identity by chanelling funds through a limited company that is itself a 'regulated donee' - since regulated donees should be reporting their donations to the Electoral Commission.

What is wrong her is that the Tories can set up fronts such as CCS (and also their conference which is separate limited company as well) as a way around the national campaign spending limits. I would not be at all surprised if Labour were to challenge the Commission's interepretaion that CCS was not in fact part of the Conservative Party.
"What is more disturbing about this decision is that it may enable donors to hide their identity by chanelling funds through a limited company that is itself a 'regulated donee'."

Or of course by channelling cash through another huge organisation with recognized political links - to wit, the unions. In light of this decision, perhaps "loans for peerages" will no longer be needed - the money will just be funnelled from rich backers to Labour through the TUC. We've already seen how happy Labour are to pinch good ideas from all quarters...

If it did, that would of course make it even less likely that this loophole will be closed - and place smaller parties at a still greater disadvantage.
Nobody has the stomach for [more legislation] at the moment
Not true of our parliamentary party, surely? Labour does not want to reopen talks because we and the Conservatives will insist that TU contributions be brought within the scope of any new Act, and the Conservatives will be content after this judgment because they know they can outspend ourselves and Labour put together.
Tory Boys, you are of course correct. I meant to refer to expenses in a constituency contest which is tied to the declaration and promotion of a candidate.
It's becoming like a game of first division rugby in Wales, you play the game to what you can get away with.

During the May 2008 elections we seen IMPRINTS left off leaflets, and in one situation in the Maesteg West ward, Plaid (labours little helpers) actually putting two different imprints on the same leaflet.

It is clear that imprints are now optional in Bridgend County, since the electoral department of BCBC won't enforce the law.
'Nobody has the stomach for [more legislation] at the moment'

Well, I do for one, so could those who are paid to legislate just get on with this please? And could they also seek the appropriate advice so that yet more tempting loopholes aren't left half-open in this same way.
What I meant by that comment is that the government screwed up so badly the last time that they cannot be trusted to get it right on the second attempt. The all-party approach has broken down for reasons outlined elsewhere in these comments until it is re-established then further legislation will just be a partisan disaster waiting to happen.
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