The Conservatives have been fined a record £70,000 for breaking election expenses rules, the Electoral Commission says.
The Tories insist its failure to report six figure sums it spent on campaigning to win the general election and three by-elections was an “administrative error”.
The party have paid the fine and say they complied with the in investigation, but the Electoral Commission dispute this and note they had to obtain a court order to gain access to party records.
The Conservatives broke rules by failing to properly expense for its “battlebus” campaign that helped David Cameron win the general election in 2015 and by moving campaigners and staff from its national headquarters to boost local party efforts at earlier by-elections.
The Commission said there was a “realistic prospect” the breaches in the rules had given the party an advantage to win the elections.
Electoral Commission chairman Sir John Holmes said:
“Our investigation uncovered numerous failures by a large, well-resourced and experienced party to ensure that accurate records of spending were maintained and that all of the party’s spending was reported correctly.”
The Tories were fined £20,000 for breaking spending rules in the 2015 general election, £45,000 for breaking spending rules in three by-elections, and a further £5,000 for failing to provide further invoices and receipts for expenditure during the elections.
The Metropolitan Police are now examining reports from a number of wards to determine whether they overspending and reporting omissions were deliberate and could result in criminal prosecutions.
The Electoral Commission investigation, which followed an earlier Channel 4 News investigation, found four main issues with the Conservative party’s spending and accounting:
- Conservative 2015 general election spending return was missing payments worth at least £104,765
- Payments worth up to £118,124 were omitted entirely or incorrectly reported to the commission
- Required invoices or receipts for 81 payments to the value of £52,924 were not reported
- Failure to maintain records explaining the amounts it invoiced to candidates in three 2014 by-elections, for direct work on their campaigns
Elsewhere, twelve local police have also asked the Crown Prosecution Service to consider charges over election expenses reporting by the Conservative party.