Britain’s electoral laws are not ‘fit for purpose’ to combat disinformation and fake news, say MPs

Britain’s electoral law is “not fit for purpose” and should be updated to tackle the growing use of social media and online micro-targeting of voters by political campaigners, the Culture Committee recommends. The committee pointed to warnings by the Information Commissioner of a “disturbing disregard for voters’ personal privacy” in the way their personal information was being used in political campaigns.

It also follows the scandal over Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy that worked for Donald Trump, which improperly obtained the personal data of 50m Facebook users. The committee calls for absolute transparency of political campaigning.

Source: The Telegraph

The Brexit Party and impermissable donations

“Based on the information we reviewed, we assess the party to be at risk of noncompliance with its financial scheme and obligations under PPERA. In particular, the fundraising structure the Party have adopted, coupled with insufficient procedures, leaves it open to a high and ongoing risk of receiving and accepting impermissible donations, and being unable to maintain accurate records of transactions.”

Electoral Commission

The Electoral Commission has agreed it’s likely that the Brexit Party broke electoral laws during the European Elections, it is legally obliged to return the impermissible donations within 30 days of receipt.

Members of the elections watchdog the Electoral Commission gave evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-Committee on Disinformation on 18 June, as a Freedom of Information request was published showing the full scope of its recommendations to the Brexit Party following its recent investigation into its funding.

It showed the extra information the party’s funding system would require in order to ascertain the permissibility of a donor. This, of course, implies that this identifying information was lacking during the European Elections and, indeed, is lacking now.

As 30 days has elapsed on the vast majority of these donations then laws have likely already been broken on a pretty vast scale.

Louise Edwards, the commission’s director of regulation, acknowledged that there was no systematic way for the Brexit Party to distinguish whether a small donation was a one-off or an atomized part of a larger donation. The Brexit Party is now required to check these historical donations for permissibility.

This means it did not systematically check for permissibility at the time and, as 30 days have elapsed on the vast majority of these donations, laws have likely already been broken on a pretty vast scale.

Going back and checking now will not unbreak these laws.

The Electoral Commission requires the Brexit Party to check permissibility under section 54 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000, and take necessary action under sections 56 and 57. This will likely establish that the Brexit Party took donations from unidentifiable and therefore impermissible donors on a massive scale without returning them.

Section 57 requires the return of these donations, likely to be on a crippling scale. This should apply equally to the ‘registered user’ funds.

For example, a tranche of several thousand spurious ‘users’ could be uploaded separately to a corresponding automated PayPal upload of the same number of £25 registration fees. This would be impermissible, and the Brexit Party can’t and could not tell.

Download: The Electoral Commission’s findings, instruction and recommendations to The Brexit Party

Source: Bylinetimes / The Independent / The Guardian

Vote Leave broke electoral law

17 Jul 2018 – Excerpt from the Electoral Commission’s report Link

“We found substantial evidence that the two groups worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits. These are serious breaches of the laws put in place by parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums”

Bob Posner, Director of political finance and regulation Electoral Commission

The Electoral Commission’s investigation found significant evidence of joint working between the lead campaigner, Vote Leave and another campaign group BeLeave. Evidence shows that BeLeave spent more than £675,000 with Aggregate IQ under a common plan with Vote Leave. This spending should have been declared by Vote Leave. It means Vote Leave exceeded its legal spending limit of £7 million by almost £500,000.

Vote Leave also returned an incomplete and inaccurate spending report, with nearly £234,501 reported incorrectly, and invoices missing for £12,849.99 of spending. Darren Grimes, the founder of the BeLeave campaign group, was found to have committed two offences and has been fined £20,000. Mr Grimes spent more than £675,000 on behalf of BeLeave, a non-registered campaigner that had a spending limit of £10,000. Further, he wrongly reported that same spending as his own.

The Commission has now referred both Mr David Halsall the responsible person for Vote Leave, and Mr Grimes to the Metropolitan Police in relation to false declarations of campaign spending. It has also shared its investigation files with the Metropolitan Police in relation to whether any persons have committed related offences which lie outside the Commission’s regulatory remit.

Electoral Commission director of political finance and regulation, Bob Posner, accused Vote Leave of trying to obstruct its investigation – which had uncovered “clear and substantial” evidence. “Vote Leave has resisted our investigation from the start, including contesting our right as the statutory regulator to open the investigation. It has refused to cooperate, refused our requests to put forward a representative for interview, and forced us to use our legal powers to compel it to provide evidence.”

Vote Leave’s chief executive, Matthew Elliott, had attacked the Commission for listening to “fantasists” and branded its upcoming report a “huge breach of natural justice”. See also TaxPayer’s Alliance smears Brexit whistleblower.

Source: Electoral Commission

Leave.EU broke electoral law

11 May 2018 – Excerpt from Electoral Commission’s report Link

“The rules we enforce were put in place by Parliament to ensure transparency and public confidence in our democratic processes. It is therefore disappointing that Leave.EU, a key player in the EU referendum, was unable to abide by these rules. Leave.EU exceeded its spending limit and failed to declare its funding and its spending correctly.  These are serious offences. The level of fine we have imposed has been constrained by the cap on the Commission’s fines.”

Bob Posner, Director of political finance and regulation Electoral Commission

Leave.EU has been fined £70,000 by the Electoral Commission for offences committed under electoral law, following its investigation into the campaigner’s funding and spend during the EU referendum. The investigation concluded that Leave.EU incorrectly reported what it spent at the EU referendum. It exceeded its statutory spending limit and delivered incomplete and inaccurate spending and transaction returns.

Leave.EU failed to include at least £77,380 in its spending return, thereby exceeding the spending limit for non-party registered campaigners by at least 10%. The Commission also considers that the unlawful over-spend may well have been considerably higher than that. Services the group received from the US campaign strategy firm Goddard Gunster were not included in the spending return, despite a proportion of them having been used during Leave.EU’s referendum campaign.

The Commission found Leave.EU inaccurately reported three loans it had received.  This included a lack of transparency and incorrect reporting around who provided the loans, the dates the loans were entered into, the repayment date and the interest rate. Finally, Leave.EU failed to provide the required invoice or receipt for 97 payments of over £200, totalling £80,224.

Through its investigation, the Commission also has reasonable grounds to suspect that the responsible person for Leave.EU committed criminal offences and she has therefore been referred to the Metropolitan Police.

1 November 2018 – Excerpt from Electoral Commission’s report Link

The Electoral Commission has completed its current investigation into certain payments made to Better for the Country Limited (BFTC) and Leave.EU Group Limited (Leave.EU). These payments were for the purposes of meeting expenses incurred by BFTC (including on behalf of Leave.EU) in the 2016 EU Referendum. The Commission has reasonable grounds to suspect a number of criminal offences and have referred the matter to the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Download: The Electoral Commission’s report on the 2016 EU Referendum

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