The Conservative Party has been fined £70,000 after an Electoral Commission probe into election expenses prompted by the reporting of Channel 4 News.
The independent elections watchdog said the party had made “numerous failures” in reporting its expenses for the 2015 General Election and three by-elections in 2014.
Commission chairman Sir John Holmes said the Tories’ failure to follow the rules “undermined voters’ confidence in our democratic processes” and said there was a risk political parties were seeing such fines as “a cost of doing business”.
The fine follows the news that a dozen police forces have sent files to the Crown Prosecution Service as part of a probe into the Conservatives’ 2015 election expenses.
At least three Tory MPs have been quizzed by police investigating whether election finance laws were broken in the 2015 contest.
The parallel investigation by the Electoral Commission found that the Tories’ 2015 spending return was missing payments worth at least £104,765.
Separately, payments worth up to £118,124 were either not reported to the Commission or were incorrectly reported by the party, a portion of which was recorded as national party spending when it should have been recorded as candidate spending in individual constituencies.
In addition, the Tories did not include invoices or receipts for 81 payments worth £52,924 and failed to maintain records explaining the amounts it invoiced to candidates in three 2014 by-elections for work on their campaigns, meaning the accuracy of the sums could not be verified.
It follows Channel 4 News allegations that the Tories had incorrectly recorded spending on a “battle bus” tour which took activists to campaign in key marginal seats.
The allegations centred on whether the tour should have been recorded as counting towards individual candidates’ spending limits, rather than as part of the larger national spending return.
Among the seats investigated by the Commission was South Thanet, where Tory Craig Mackinlay narrowly beat former Ukip leader Nigel Farage.
Channel 4 News hs been carrying out a year-long investigation into evidence the Conservative Party may have abused election laws to fight three by-elections in 2014 and win power in the 2015 General Election.
In its report the Electoral Commission acknowledged the role of Channel 4 News in prompting its investigation.
It said: “The Commission’s attention was drawn to broadcast reports in which Channel 4 News made a number of allegations about spending by the Party and/or its candidates in the South Thanet constituency during the 2015 UKPGE campaign.
“Channel 4 News subsequently ran other broadcast reports concerning the way the Party had reported party and candidate campaign spending during 2014 and 2015. After assessing the evidence provided by the reports, and having had discussions with the Party, the Commission opened an investigation on 15 February 2016.”