A DUP advert that appeared in the Metro
A £435,000 donation to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from a pro-Brexit group was not reported to the Electoral Commission, it has been confirmed. The BBC has reported that Scottish unionist funding organisation Constitutional Research Council (CRC) has been fined £6,000 for failing to report the donation.
Following an investigation, the Electoral Commission ruled that there was “no reasonable excuse” for failing to report it, along with other political contributions.
It was a record fine by the Electoral Commission.
However, the Commission accepted that the donation and its donors were “permissible”.
The DUP received the donation during the Brexit referendum campaign and spent £282,000 of the money on an advert (pictured above) in the Metro newspaper.
A BBC Northern Ireland (NI) Spotlight programme asked questions about whether the DUP incurred joint spending with other EU referendum campaigners but did not declare it under a common plan.
Under Electoral Commission rules, groups are not allowed to work together in order to get around funding limits, but the DUP has denied wrongdoing and insisted it acted within electoral law. It said yesterday that it had nothing to add to previous comments on the matter.
Following the airing of the documentary in June, the Electoral Commission requested further evidence from BBC Spotlight NI but were told there was no other significant information other than what was in the programme. The BBC broadcasted their own investigation.
In August, the Electoral Commission surprisingly announced that there were “no grounds” for an investigation into the issue. However, the UK Electoral Commission – the body tasked with protecting the integrity of our elections – has behaved with all of the intergrity and accountability of the Pro Conservative mainstream media during its ‘investigation’ of this controversial, secret Brexit donation.
Details of the fine were contained in new correspondence from the Electoral Commission released by the Good Law Project, the BBC reported.
The group had been seeking a judicial review over the commission’s refusal not to probe the allegations made on Spotlight.
In October, Court of Appeal judges sitting in the High Court handed down a short further judgment in respect of the Good Law Project’s judicial review of the Electoral Commission. You can read the judgment here.
The High Court rejected the application for permission to appeal advanced by the Electoral Commission and Vote Leave. The donations made by Vote Leave to Darren Grimes to meet his expenses with AggregateIQ were Vote Leave’s referendum expenses, said the High Court, and there was no real prospect of persuading the Court of Appeal otherwise. This has four main consequences.
Firstly, both the High Court and the Electoral Commission have now held that Vote Leave broke the law during the referendum.
Secondly, it is false – it is no exaggeration to call it a lie – to pretend that the Electoral Commission gave Vote Leave permission to work together with Darren Grimes. Vote Leave relies (you can read its witness statement here) for that assertion on a waiver given by the Electoral Commission. The waiver reads as follows:
However, it only applies if there was no “co-ordinated plan or agreement” between Vote Leave and Darren Grimes. And there was.
Thirdly, the High Court has held that the Electoral Commission misapplied the law during the referendum. The waiver – above – was wrong in principle.
Fourthly, importantly, the Commission was wrong when it gave a waiver to Leave campaigners without giving that waiver to Remain campaigners. And, had it given that waiver to Remain campaigners they, too, would have carried on spending.
Responding to these latest developments, Caroline Lucas MP has called on the Electoral Commission to “urgently reopen its investigation and use its powers to demand concrete evidence of where these significant donations came from.”
“This is about protecting the integrity of our democracy”, she added: “The Electoral Commission itself has already admitted Leave campaigners broke the law ahead of the 2016 referendum. So for them to simply take the DUP and Constitutional Research Council at their word is deeply irresponsible.”
The Good Law Project says: “It is open to the Electoral Commission to ignore the indication from the High Court and ask the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal. However, we can only hope that it will not waste further public money attempting to defend its mishandling of the Referendum.”
The Electoral Commission is apparently reluctant or powerless to enforce the laws of what ought to be democratic events such as referendums and elections.
Yet without a normative, wider, institutionalised accountability and transparency, we have no democracy.
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