22 Dec 2010
The Electoral Commission, the independent party finance watchdog, today announced the outcome of a review into Zac Goldsmith MP’s election expenses for his campaign for the 2010 UK Parliamentary general election.
The Commission considered whether the costs of Mr Goldsmith’s campaign were reported in accordance with the requirements of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (RPA) and whether the spending was within the limits for the campaign period.
The law does not provide the Commission with civil sanctions to impose for such breaches, and the Commission does not have the power to determine whether or not a criminal offence has been committed. The Commission therefore considered whether or not there was sufficient basis to refer the case to the police for criminal investigation.
Reporting of costs in accordance with the RPA
Under the RPA, candidates and their election agents are required to submit a return detailing the expenses incurred during each campaign period to the Returning Officer for the constituency in which they stood. It is an offence for a candidate or election agent to knowingly make a false declaration as to election expenses.
The Commission found that the return submitted by the election agent (Mr Newman) on behalf of Mr Goldsmith was unclear in places and the way in which various costs were apportioned would have been easier to understand if more information had been given.
We also considered that the way in which some election costs were apportioned between Mr Goldsmith’s Parliamentary campaign and the concurrent local government election campaign was not consistent with the Commission’s guidance or good practice.
Spending within limits set out in the RPA
The RPA sets limits on campaign expenditure for the “short campaign period” and “long campaign period”. It is an offence for a candidate or election agent to incur or authorise expenses in excess of the limits if they knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that the limit would be exceeded.
The Commission concluded that the total expenditure on the ‘short campaign period’ may have been under-reported by at least £1,185. This would have resulted in an overspend of £966 against the limit for the ‘short campaign period’. When looking at the amount spent over the whole campaign period (i.e. an aggregation of the ‘long’ and ‘short’ periods), even taking the potential under-reporting in the short period into account, the total expenditure remains below £35,000. This was within the aggregated limit of £39,856 for both periods.
Decision on further action
In determining whether to refer the case to the police for criminal investigation under the RPA, the Commission considered the following factors in addition to whether or not an overspend may have occurred:
o the relative amount of the potential overspend
o the fact that the aggregate spending limit was not exceeded
the absence of any evidence of intentional circumvention of the rules.
Taking all of these circumstances into account, the Commission decided that a referral to the police for criminal investigation was not appropriate in this case.
Commenting on the outcome of the review, Electoral Commission’s Director of Party and Election Finance, Lisa Klein, said: “We’ve looked carefully at all the evidence and we don’t believe it would be in the public interest to refer this case to the police for criminal investigation.”
“We have written to Zac Goldsmith, and to his election agent David Newman, to express our concern about the way some of the election costs were apportioned.”
The Commission will publish a report early in 2011 on spending by parties, candidates and non-party campaigners at the 2010 UK Parliamentary general election. The report will highlight any aspects of the election that suggest changes may be needed to the way spending is regulated. The Committee on Standards in Public Life is currently reviewing the regulation of political finance.
For more information please contact
Electoral Commission press office on 0207 271 0704
Out of hours 07789 920414
Notes to editors
- The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK’s democratic process. We regulate party and election finance and set standards for well-run elections.
- The Commission provided guidance for candidates and agents on how to determine what counts as election spending and how it should be reported, see (LINK to guidance for candidates and agents)
- The long campaign period began on 1 January 2010 and ended on the date Parliament was dissolved, 12 April. The short campaign period began on 13 April 2010 and ended on the date of the poll, 6 May 2010.