Electoral Commission decides not to refer Zac Goldsmith’s expenses to the police

Yesterday the Electoral Commission decided not to refer Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith’s election expenses to the police for further investigation. Though this brings to an end official inquiries into whether Zac Goldsmith had kept within election law, the details of the Electoral Commission’s rulings leave several questions about Goldsmith’s expenses unanswered and also suggest that in future spending under the limit during the long campaign may be seen as a defence for breaking the short campaign limit.

As the Electoral Commission reports:

The Commission concluded that the total expenditure on the ‘short campaign period’ may have been under-reported by at least £1,185.

Despite finding that the law “may” have been broken, the Commission decided not to refer the matter to the police because:

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
o 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.

The reference to the aggregate spending limit is to the combined short and long period campaign limits:

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.

What is disturbing about this logic is that it implies that in future a campaign could under-spend during the long campaign and so have a defence against over-spending in the short campaign. However, the evidence about when people make up their minds to vote is that it mostly happens either before any of the campaigns start, or just before polling day. Therefore shifting expense from the long to the short campaign would confer an electoral benefit, and undermines one of the reasons for having separate long and short campaign periods.

As this was not the only reason the Commission gave for ending the case at this point, it would be foolish as well as unethical for future candidates to deliberately set out to use this defence – but it is a worrying sign about the attitude the Electoral Commission may take in future cases.

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This entry was posted in Election law.
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10 Comments

  • Toothless, spineless and gutless, and totally to be expected.

  • Grant Williams 23rd Dec '10 - 12:00pm

    I don’t think that anyone would like to take an Application for Judicial Review on that one, given the likely cost, BUT it is crass, to put it mildly, for any regulatory body to find the rules have been broken and then not to pursue the matter.

    An official repremand, at least, would seem appripriate here.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 23rd Dec '10 - 4:21pm

    And Goldsmith is now claiming that he has been exonerated which is how the media are reporting it and what will be believed.

  • Ian Sanderson (RM3) 24th Dec '10 - 9:08am

    Has anybody really heard much from Goldsmith in his capacity as an MP? Or has he joined the ranks of the formerly “high profile” elected to obscurity at Westminster.

  • It is an unfortunate fact that 90 per cent of police personnel are not capable of dealing with any aspect of fraud (of which many electoral ‘crimes’ are a subset). They are no more equipped so to do than they are to write poetry or conduct symphonies. The CPS do not appreciate fraud references from police, either, because they involve an awful lot of complicated work compared with other ‘simpler’ crimes where the police report is likely to be at least the basis for determining whether or not to prosecute.

    The Electoral Commission are just a disgrace generally who should be wound up to save public cash. What I’d appreciate someone informing us is whether, just because they CAN make recommendations to police/CPS on prosecutions, the EC can effectively veto requests to prosecute coming from elsewhere.

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