The Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats (“the Party”) is a registered political party in Great Britain.
The 2015 United Kingdom Parliamentary General Election (“the 2015 UKPGE”) took place on 7 May 2015. Under PPERA and given that the Party’s campaign spending exceeded £250,000, the registered campaigns officer of the Party1 , Mr Tim Gordon, was required to deliver to us a financial return including all campaign spending incurred by the Party during the 2015 UKPGE campaign period, by 7 November 2015. Mr Gordon delivered this return in advance of the statutory deadline. We published this return on 20 January 2016.
We later identified various items of expenditure in Liberal Democrat candidate spending returns for the 2015 UKPGE which were stated as split between the Party and the candidate and thus reportable in both returns. However, the Party element did not appear in the Party’s original UKPGE return. Following enquiries with the Party, we opened an investigation on 27 June 2016.
This is a report of that investigation. It is being published alongside the publication of the outcome of the investigation and the sanction imposed.
Summary of outcomes
In summary, we found that the Party’s 2015 UKPGE campaign spending return was not a complete return as required by PPERA. Accordingly, Mr Gordon committed one offence under PPERA and the Party has been fined £20,000, this being the maximum fine that we may impose.
In addition, we identified information raising the suspicion that Mr Gordon may have knowingly or recklessly signed a false declaration that the spending return was complete. This is an offence under section 83(3) of PPERA. We do not have the powers to sanction this offence, and the matter was therefore referred to the Metropolitan Police Service on 24 November 2016.
The legal framework
In accordance with section 24 of PPERA the registered treasurer of a party is responsible for compliance on the part of the Party with all parts of PPERA, unless the Party has a registered campaigns officer. In accordance with section 25 of PPERA, where a party has a registered campaigns officer, such as the Liberal Democrats, they are responsible for ensuring compliance with parts V to VII of PPERA. This includes the preparation and submission of reports prepared under section 80 of PPERA.
Section 80(2) of PPERA requires the registered campaigns officer of a party to prepare a campaign spending return at the conclusion of a UKPGE campaign period. Section 80(3) requires that the return contains:
- a statement of all payments made in respect of campaign spending incurred during the campaign period;
- a statement of all disputed claims (where the campaigns officer refuses to pay the claim) of which the campaigns officer is aware; and
- a statement of all the unpaid claims (if any) of which the campaigns officer is aware
Section 80(4) requires that the return contains:
- all invoices or receipts related to the payments (of value greater than £200); and
- a declaration of all notional spending.
Section 82(1) of PPERA requires the registered campaigns officer of a party which incurred more than £250,000 of campaign spending to deliver the campaign spending return within six months of the end of the relevant campaign period. For the 2015 UKPGE, which took place on 7 May 2015, the deadline for delivering the return was 7 November 2015.
Under section 82(4)(b) of PPERA, the registered campaigns officer commits an offence if, without reasonable excuse, he or she delivers a return which does not comply with the requirements of section 80(3) or (4) of PPERA.
- 1. In accordance with section 25 of PPERA, where a party has a registered campaigns officer, they are responsible for ensuring compliance with Parts V to VII of that Act, as opposed to the party treasurer. This includes the submission of campaign expenditure returns in respect of a UKPGE ↩ Back to content at footnote 1
- 2. Sir Bob Russell (Colchester). There is no suggestion that the data reported by the candidate and agent within the candidate return was wrong. ↩ Back to content at footnote 2
- 3. It is the legal responsibility of the Party’s registered campaigns officer to ensure a party’s spending return is a complete statement of all payments made by, or on behalf of, the Party. The Commission does not proactively review on a line by line basis whether a party’s spending return is complete and accurate prior to publication as it is important to publish the information proactively as soon as possible after we receive it to ensure the greatest transparency around spend and to inform the media’s reporting of the issue. The Commission will take appropriate action where it has credible evidence that a failure to comply has occurred and where it is proportionate to do so ↩ Back to content at footnote 3
- 4. Sir Bob Russell (Colchester). There is no suggestion that the data reported by the Candidate and agent within the candidate return was wrong. ↩ Back to content at footnote 4
- 5. Where spending applies to both a party and a candidate’s campaign, the spending must be split accordingly between campaigns. In such circumstances an honest assessment, based on the facts, must be made to determine the proportion of spending that can be fairly attributed to the Party and candidate. Spending apportioned to the Party must be included in the Party’s spending return. ↩ Back to content at footnote 5
- 6. Ed Davey (Kingston and Surbiton), Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) and Mark Williams (Ceredigion). There is no suggestion that the data reported by the Candidate and agent within each candidate return was wrong. ↩ Back to content at footnote 6