Commission confirms findings of Goldsmith investigation

The Electoral Commission has today confirmed the general findings of a joint Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Channel Four News inquiry into Zac Goldsmith’s campaign spending.

The commission’s review into Goldsmith’s general election expenses found that the campaign team of the new Conservative MP had overspent on its “short campaign period” budget by £966 and it may have been under-reported by at least £1,185.

The commission found that the return submitted by Goldsmith’s election agent was “unclear in places and the way in which various costs were apportioned would have been easier to understand if more information had been given”.

“The Representation of the People Act sets limits on campaign expenditure for the ‘short campaign period’ and ‘long campaign period’,” the commission said.

“It is an offence for a candidate or election agent to incur or authorise expenses in excess of the limits if they knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that the limit would be exceeded.”

It also found the way some election costs were apportioned between Goldsmith’s Parliamentary campaign and the concurrent local government election campaign was “not consistent with the Commission’s guidance or good practice”.

However, the commission decided not to recommend a criminal investigation on the grounds that the aggregate limit for spending had not been exceeded and that there was no evidence of intentional rule breaking.

Goldsmith’s total expenditure over the course of the election campaign (both “long” and “short” periods) remained below £35,000, it said. This was within the aggregated limit of £39,856 for both periods.

Lisa Klein, the Electoral Commission’s director of party and election finance, said: “We’ve looked carefully at all the evidence and we don’t believe it would be in the public interest to refer this case to the police for criminal investigation.

“We have written to Zac Goldsmith, and to his election agent David Newman, to express our concern about the way some of the election costs were apportioned.”

Goldsmith, who is also the owner of The Ecologist magazine, branded the joint Bureau/Channel 4 News investigation “profoundly unethical” following its broadcast in July.

He told Sky News: “Channel 4 has looked at a number of MPs, found exactly the same story with each one and decided that – given that my campaign was a high-profile campaign and I was a high-profile candidate, not always for the best reasons – they decided to focus on mine.

“I don’t mind if they want to look at the funding formula, if they want to look at the rules. That’s entirely their prerogative. I’m sure they could do with being looked at.”

Channel 4 News had reported that Goldsmith had significantly overspent on the £11,003 election “short” expenses limit in his Richmond Park constituency by not declaring all the costs for leaflets, signs and a batch of jackets bearing the slogan “I back Zac”.

Iain Overton, editor of Bureau, said: “The commission’s conclusion that Mr Goldsmith’s apportioning of election costs are a cause for concern shows our investigation was both warranted and necessary.

“We believe it has raised important questions over current election expenses guidelines – and we would hope some of these wider issues will be considered as part of the report into election spending regulation due to be published by the commission in 2011.”

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