May 11, 2018 / 9:02 AM / 4 months ago

FACTBOX-Brexit group Leave.EU fined for breaking referendum spending rules

LONDON, May 11 (Reuters) - One of the main Brexit campaign groups in Britain’s 2016 EU referendum was fined 70,000 pounds ($95,000) on Friday by the Electoral Commission for incorrectly reporting its expenditure and breaching a spending limit.

Below is a summary of the findings of the Commission, as well as the response from Leave.EU.

BACKGROUND

The Electoral Commission last year said it was looking at whether Arron Banks’ pro-Brexit Leave.EU group received any impermissible donations, and separately would investigate whether Banks was the true source of loans to campaigners.

The Electoral Commission said that, as a non-designated campaigner, the referendum spending limit on Leave.EU was 700,000 pounds. Leave.EU reported spending of 693,094 pounds, 6,906 pounds under the spending limit.

As part of its investigations, the Electoral Commission examined whether there were any links between Leave.EU and Cambridge Analytica, a controversial political consultancy at the centre of a Facebook data scandal.

Facebook has said the personal information of about 87 million users might have been improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign.

Though questions were also raised about Cambridge Analytica’s role in the Brexit campaign, the consultancy said it pitched to Leave.EU but never undertook any paid work.

Leave.EU also said that it decided not to work with Cambridge Analytica after Vote Leave was chosen as the official “leave” campaign rather than Leave.EU.

FINDINGS

The Electoral Commission’s investigation found that:

- Leave.EU failed to include a minimum of 77,380 pounds in its spending return, thereby exceeding its spending limit by more than 10 percent, in breach of electoral law. The Commission is satisfied that the actual figure was in fact greater, given the failure to report an appropriate proportion of the cost of services provided by Goddard Gunster.

- Leave.EU did not correctly report the receipt of three regulated transactions from Arron Banks, totalling 6 million pounds. The dates the transactions were entered into, the repayment date, the interest rate and the provider of the transactions were all incorrectly reported.

- Leave.EU paid for services from the U.S. campaign strategy firm Goddard Gunster that should have been reported in its spending return but were not.

- Leave.EU failed to include in its referendum spending return, spending of 77,380 pounds in fees paid to the company Better for the Country Limited as its campaign organiser.

- Leave.EU failed to provide the required invoice or receipt for 97 payments of over 200 pounds, cumulatively totalling 80,224 pounds.

The commission said it suspected criminal offences may have been committed, and the responsible person, Leave.EU CEO Liz Bilney, had been referred to the police.

However, the Commission found no evidence that Leave.EU received donations or paid-for services from Cambridge Analytica for its referendum campaigning and found that the relationship did not develop beyond initial scoping work.

LEAVE.EU’S RESPONSE

Leave.EU said in an emailed statement that they would appeal the fines, and demanded the Electoral Commission release all the information they had on the matter.

It said the Electoral Commission was “unable to produce a shred of evidence relating to the original allegations” about Cambridge Analytica, reiterating that it did not work with the consultancy.

It said the alleged overspend representing less than 0.1 percent of the total campaign finance spend, and that it had over-reported other expenditure.

“We view the Electoral Commission announcement as a politically motivated attack on Brexit and the 17.4 million people who defied the establishment to vote for an independent Britain,” Banks said in a statement.

“The Electoral Commission went big game fishing and found a few ‘aged’ dead sardines on the beach. So much for the big conspiracy! What a shambles, we will see them in court.” (Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

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