UPDATE: Wednesday 29th August 2018 – 1:45pm
I now believe that this is the mailing involved and as you can see it is definitely local in nature:
Start of original article
Following a tweet from John Nicolson, the former MP for East Dunbartonshire, regarding income and spending of the Liberal Democrats in that constituency I decided to delve into the Party’s spending at last year’s General Election.
Lots of focus on Tory funding at the moment. But the LibDems’ @ElectoralCommUK East Dunbartonshire figures make for fascinating reading. Only 170 members. 0 branches. Raised a meagre £39 in 2016 from membership fees. But managed to spend £110,000 in election year 2017 pic.twitter.com/xLmb1dtr2Y
— JOHN NICOLSON (@MrJohnNicolson) August 25, 2018
Following an election each candidate has to submit a return to the Electoral Commission detailing the amount they have spent on the campaign. There is a limit on candidate spending for each constituency and in East Dunbartonshire this is £14,619.03.
Jo Swinson, who won the seat for the Liberal Democrats, declared a total spend £14,409.44 (just under the maximum allowed). This spending included £9,842.70 on “Unsolicited Material” which is mainly the Campaign material you all receive through your doors.
As well as candidate spending a return also has to be submitted for party spending and in the case of mailings the Electoral Commission has this advice as to whether something should be classified as candidate or party spending:
“A leaflet and a local newspaper advertisement promoting a party’s policies on health are distributed in a number of constituencies. The leaflet and the local newspaper advertisement include no reference to any candidates or local issues. The full cost of the leaflet and the local newspaper advertisement should be treated as party spending.”
“If however the main purpose of the leaflet and the local newspaper advertisement is to promote the candidates in the relevant constituencies, the material should be treated as candidate spending. The same general principle applies to online campaigning.” (Source: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/226518/UKPGE-2017-Factsheet-Splitting-spending.pdf)
I spent several hours this evening trawling through the Electoral Commission’s spending database and discovered something very interesting indeed, namely 2 invoices totalling £12,295.80 for items described as “Jo Swinson Mailing – Personalised letters x2 kinds plus inserting and outer envelopes”, “Jo Swinson Mailing – 6pp 1/3 A4 leaflet” and “Jo Swinson Mailing – Postage”. You can view the invoices at these links:
Now, the interesting point is that these were classified as 100% party spending as can be seen here:
Remember that for a mailing to come under party spending it must not mention the candidate or local issues at all. Given the description of the mailing (what sounds like a personalised letter to voters in an envelope) this certainly does not seem the case to me.
Given the high cost of this mailing (just £2k under the total candidate spending limit) I have had no option but to refer the details of my findings to the Electoral Commission as a possible breach of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000
I will be reaching out to East Dunbartonshire Liberal Democrats for comment and will update this article if received and also when I hear if the Electoral Commission plan to take any action or not.
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