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Sat, 4 April 2020

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Fresh fines for Remain campaigners after referendum expenses breaches

Fresh fines for Remain campaigners after referendum expenses breaches
2 min read

Unions and Remain campaigners have been fined by election watchdogs over expenses breaches during the EU referendum.

Campaign group Best for Our Future was slapped with a £2,000 penalty for failing to submit documents about donations from Unison and the GMB.

Both unions meanwhile were fined £500 each for inaccuracies in the way they reported the donations they gave to the campaign group.

Best for our Future appears to have been set up by Labour and press freedom activist Cormac Hollingsworth and left-wing political blogger Laurence Durnan.

It received some £10,000 from Unison during the 2016 referendum campaign, whilst GMB handed it £20,000.

It has also taken £369,000 from Lord David Sainsbury - who gave thousands to the official Stronger In campaign.

Finance boss at the Electoral Commission, Bob Posner, said: “The reporting requirements for political parties and campaign groups are clear, so it is always disappointing when parties report late or inaccurately.

“It’s vital that voters are given an opportunity to see accurate and full reportable data on what parties spend money on in order to influence them at elections.”

Last year the Lib Dems were handed an £18,000 penalty over referendum campaign expense inaccuracies while the official Stronger In campaign was hit with a £1,250 fine. 

Last week Pro-Brexit campaign group Leave.EU was hit with a £70,000 fine for breaching campaign funding rules during the EU referendum.

The latest fines came as the watchdog urged MPs to beef up its powers and fix the UK's "old and fragmented" electoral spending laws.

The Commission's chief executive Claire Bassett told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that its maximum fines were "just too low".

"It's been described as a cost of doing business, and that's something that we would like to see increased particularly in line with other regulators who can make much more significant fines," she said.

The Commission chief also urged MPs to consider handing the watchdog more powers to compel social media companies to share information on spending by political campaigns, saying the current lack of transparency was "a real challenge".

She made a pitch for the watchdog to be able to conduct "no notice inspections" and seize documents, and also said major players in referendum and election campaigns should be compelled to provide spending returns in "real-time" rather than having a six-month window in which to file.

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