Probe widened into Conservative party by-election spending

Posted On: 
2nd March 2016

The elections watchdog is extending its investigation into the Conservative party’s election spending returns to include three more by-elections.

Channel 4 News claimed it had obtained receipts showing undeclared expenditure in three 2014 by-elections – in Newark, Rochester & Strood and Clacton.

The Electoral Commission subsequently launched an inquiry into the Tories’ spending in South Thanet last month after Kent Police decided not to pursue a criminal investigation.

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Reports emerged that the Tories attributed £14,000 worth of hotel bills to national expenditure rather than putting it towards the constituency spending limit.

Parties were restricted to £15,016 for each seat in the run-up to May’s general election, but that does not cover national spending.

The spending watchdog is now looking into the reporting of hotel bills for the Newark, Rochester and Strood and Clacton by-elections in 2014.

The Conservative party insisted all spending had been “correctly recorded in accordance with the law”.

A spokesperson added: "We will of course cooperate with the Electoral Commission.”

Though the Commission cannot investigate candidate spending, it can examine whether hotel bills were reported in the overall returns for May’s general election and 2014 European Parliament elections.

Should the Tories not have included the hotel bills as part of its national spending returns it would be down to the police to investigate whether the party should have included said bills in the candidate spending returns.

“Where a Parliamentary by-election takes place during a ‘regulated period’, any campaign spending during that by-election by a political party must be reported to the Electoral Commission in the spending return they are required to submit following the election for which the ‘regulated period’ applied at,” the Commission explained.

“The Newark Parliamentary by-election (5 June 2014) took place following the regulated period for the 2014 European Parliament Election, but during the 2015 UK Parliamentary General Election. The Clacton Parliamentary by-election (9 October 2014) and the Rochester and Strood Parliamentary by-election (20 November 2014) both took place during the regulated period for the General Election.”