There's a little more to the story of the unions funding the selection campaigns of their preferred candidates. If a union (or any single donor) gives a candidate who is a party member over £1,500, in cash or in kind, toward their selection campaign, the candidate needs to tell the Electoral Commission about that, within 30 days of accepting the gift. Now whatever counts as accepting, it is something that is done within 30 days of receiving the gift so, depending on the specifics, candidates have between 30-60 days to tell the Commission.
Now, as the Labour selection process finished with announcements mid-June, those 60 days have long gone, and it looks awfully like only one candidate has made a declaration. I am focussing on Labour, partly because their 60 days is long gone, but also partly because of elements of their selection process that make this more likely to be an issue for them than for other parties. Labour:-
- Selected by postal ballot.
- Gave member addresses to candidates so they could write to members.
- Requires candidates to be members of trades unions.
- Used trades unions in the early selection processes.
- Gave email addresses to candidates, along with the mailchimp service, but this is believed only to reach half of the total membership.
- Limited candidates to a 200-word statement distributed with the ballot paper.
I quite liked this bit of the Labour selection process but, with many force areas having 5,000+ members, it creates a pressure for people to invest a tidy sum in writing to members directly. Numerous candidates have lost their own money on this, but some have turned to unions to help them, and the maths can push candidates beyond the £1,500 barrier where they have to make a declaration.
But what do we mean when we say they have to declare? Well, it is an offence not to declare or to declare late and being punished for an offence is not going to be a helpful background for an election candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner. The Electoral Commission have their own policies on investigation and prosecution. Some things they investigate themselves – others they refer to the police. Sometimes they issue their own penalties. Alternatively some offences can only be prosecuted through the criminal courts, and sometimes the Commission has to decide which path to take.
I imagine this news is of interest to various sorts of people:-
- Those who believe Labour chose the wrong candidate locally, whether inside the party or out.
- Those who are in unions who didn't want their funds used in this way.
- Those standing against such a candidate in these elections.
The thing about these mailshots is that they go out to lots of people, so there is a good chance where it has happened that there is evidence sitting in a drawer somewhere just waiting to trap a candidate who thinks the whole thing will pass them by, just waiting to be married up with the details in a union's accounts. And woe betide anyone who now tries to go back and make it all look legal, for that is the way to really get in trouble.
Will some be tempted to hope that no-one will find out, or just to face the problem post-election rather than now? Will that not be a bigger story, where a PCC is investigated possibly for a more serious offence, or an offence which is treated more seriously because they waited till they were elected and caught?
How extensive a problem is this? Who knows? I can reveal though that I have drawn the attention of the Electoral Commission to what I consider to be prima facie evidence of breach, and also of evidence I believe demands further investigation. I'll not name the candidates involved here but, if you are a candidate, it could be you.
If candidates want to reassure folk that they are in the clear, I'm happy to publish details candidates send me about how they funded their selection campaigns or, if you have information that suggests a candidate may have broken the law, even if it doesn't prove the whole story, I am happy to act as an anonomising conduit of information to the Electoral Commission – just send it all to Editor@TopOfTheCops.com or, if it is really good evidence of something serious and you don't want me to know who you are, you could always contact Crimestoppers.
This post followed a useful conversation on Twitter with policing expert @BernardRix and election lawyer @RosBaston where Ros provided some clarity on a few legal points, specifically that donation limits apply to each donor, rather than a combination of donors, that in certain circumstances the time limit for reporting is as high as 60 days, and that copies of the leaflets are useful evidence to see whether rules may have been broken. Ros has not seen the evidence I've provided to the Electoral Commission, and I do not therefore claim her support for my above analysis. She specifically makes the point that it is not unusual for unions to promote candidates, and that in certain circumstances a mailshot may not count, depending on how it's managed, though she does warn that it is very difficult to 'massage' after the event.
If you are worried that you might be caught by this, @RosBaston is probably worth a follow – heck, she might even be the lawyer you need!