‘See You in Court’: Leave.EU Fined Over Campaign Finance Dishonesty
REUTERS / Neil HallEurope17:10 11.05.2018(updated 17:11 11.05.2018) Get short URL
A leading pro-Brexit campaigning group has incurred the wrath of UK electoral regulators, and could face police investigation, it has been announced.
The UK Electoral Commission fined campaign group Leave.EU US$95,000 (£70,000) May 11 for repeatedly breaking electoral spending rules over the course of the Brexit referendum campaign.
The litany of charges included exceeding spending limits and inaccurately declaring funding and spending. For example, Leave.EU was found to have failed to include at least US$105,000 (£77,380) in spending returns, thereby exceeding spending limits for non-party registered campaigners by at least 10 percent — although the Commission strongly suspects the total amount of unlawful overspending may have been considerably higher.
Services the group received from US campaign strategy firm Goddard Gunster were not included in spending returns, despite a proportion of them having been used during Leave.EU’s referendum campaign.
Leave.EU also inaccurately reported three loans it received, failing to reveal who provided the loans, the dates the loans were given, repayment dates and interest rates, and failed to provide required invoices or receipts for 97 payments totaling US$108,837 (£80,224).
REUTERS / Toby MelvilleLeave supporters cheer results at a Leave.eu party after polling stations closed in the Referendum on the European Union in London, Britain, June 23, 2016. The Commission claimed to have reasonable grounds to suspect Leave.EU staff may have committed criminal offenses, and has reported campaign chief Liz Bilney to the Metropolitan Police. Nonetheless, the Commission found no evidence controversial data mining firm Cambridge Analytica, currently embroiled in a global scandal over misuse of private Facebook information — performed paid work or donated funds to Leave.EU during the 10-week period leading up to the vote.
In a statement, Bob Posner, Electoral Commission Director of Political Finance and Regulation & Legal Counsel, said the findings were “disappointing.”
“The rules we enforce were put in place by Parliament to ensure transparency and public confidence in our democratic processes. Leave.EU, a key player in the EU referendum, was unable to abide by these rules. These are serious offences. The level of fine we have imposed has been constrained by the cap on the Commission’s fines,” he added.
Not Lying Down
Leave.EU’s has responded by pledging to challenge the fine in court, and noting the Commission’s findings fell far short of the accusations originally leveled against them.
“A number of Labour MPs alleged the campaign was funded by dark money and millions of people were mesmerized via Cambridge Analytica into voting for Brexit against their better judgement. Leave.EU did not fail to report referendum spending on services from Cambridge Analytica nor did we receive services via a donation. Unable to produce a shred of evidence relating to the original allegations, they moved onto “campaign overspend and reporting errors”. They have raised a number of other technical reporting errors which we dispute in full and intend to appeal against,” Leave.EU said.
Noting the alleged overspend represents one percent of group’s short money limit and less than 0.1 percent of its total campaign finance spend, the avidly pro-Brexit organization added it looked forward to “robustly defending” its position in court, and its legal team was “ready to go.”
AFP 2018 / LEON NEAL British businessman Arron Banks (C) and UKIP leader Nigel Farage (3R) pose with volunteers after a press briefing by the “Leave.EU” campaign group in central London on November 18, 2015Arron Banks, the group’s co-founder, also added an incendiary two cents.
“The Electoral Commission is a Blairite Swamp Creation packed full of establishment Remoaners that couldn’t quite make it to the House of Lords We view the announcement as a politically motivated attack on Brexit and the 17.4 million people who defied the establishment to vote for an independent Britain. The EC went big game fishing and found a few ‘aged’ dead sardines on the beach. So much for the big conspiracy! What a shambles, we will see them in court,” he railed.
Leave.EU aimed to become as the official pro-Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum, but lost out to Vote Leave, which was supported by many Conservative and some Labour MPs. The group is also subject to a separate investigation into whether it also breached campaign finance rules by in the final days of the referendum.