Guido’s investigation in late 2017 drew attention to the implausibility of Momentum having adhered to the laws on spending limits. The subsequent Electoral Commission electoral fraud investigation has borne this out, with Momentum today being fined £16,700 for multiple breaches of electoral law. The hard left campaign group has been found to have repeatedly filed inaccurate general election spending returns in 2017 despite being given a year to revise their return. They were also multiple failures to report donations accepted outside of an election period. The Electoral Commission says this is “the highest fine levied on a non-party campaigner for not submitting a complete and accurate spending return during the 2017 election.”
Momentum originally claimed they had only spent £38,743 across the whole of the 2017 election. Conveniently, just under the £39,000 spending limit for non-party campaigners…
Considering Momentum raised £120,000 from Crowdpac alone, they presumably expected the Electoral Commission would simply believe that they did not spend the vast majority of the money raised. But the Commission has concluded that Momentum’s spending report “was not accurate and Momentum subsequently delivered four further versions after the deadline, each of which reported different amounts of donations and spending.” Oh dear…
UPDATE: Despite the Electoral Commission stating bluntly that “Momentum did not cooperate fully during the investigation” they have responded with a lengthy statement essentially claiming it was all an innocent mistake. The make much of their small donations from volunteers, the Electoral Commission actually found they failed to declare big donations of tens of thousands from the TSSA union.
“We welcome the Electoral Commission’s finding that Momentum did not overspend in the 2017 general election, despite the regulated spending limit being just £37,920.
It is understandable that the Electoral Commission would investigate Momentum – we managed to do a lot with very little. Our general election campaign was powered by tens of thousands of volunteers who helped out in our office, ran training sessions and knocked on doors in marginal constituencies across the country. Volunteers rather than big money meant we were able to knock on 1.2 million doors on election day, reach one in three UK Facebook users with viral videos and swing a series of key marginal constituencies for Labour.
The Electoral Commission did find some mistakes in our reporting and some clerical errors. This isn’t surprising for a new organisation which at the time was less than two years old and had 25,000 members and 150 local groups. The Conservatives likely employ more lawyers than Momentum have staff, and even getting close to fully complying with these complex regulations for a volunteer led, social movement organisation is a herculean task.
For example, the law back dates regulations to a year before election day. This means organisations running campaigns in that period can be fined or even prosecuted. In the snap election, this left us in the absurd situation of asking volunteers in local groups to submit receipts for booking community halls and buying refreshments a year before polling day. All for a snap election they did not know was going to take place, in an effort to comply with regulations they did not know they would be subject to.
The level of detail required under the law was often comic. In one instance, the Electoral Commission queried the purchase of a pizza, wanting to know what percentage of the pizza was eaten by staff members and what percentage by volunteers.
These gagging laws, introduced by the Conservatives and opposed at the time by hundreds of campaign groups, are deliberately designed to leave big money unregulated whilst throttling volunteer led, campaigning organisations with burdensome regulation which in some cases is almost impossible to follow.
We’re proud to be funded by small donations and powered by tens of thousands of volunteers, and we believe that our democracy should serve the many. These laws only help big corporate donors who want to funnel dark money into our political system.
We also believe the fines levelled are disproportionate. The fines and associated staff time will cost Momentum more than our entire regulated campaign spend during the election. Not only did Momentum cooperate fully with the Electoral Commission, but these offences are incredibly minor when compared with other political organisations. There were also various mitigating circumstances which should be taken into account. Momentum was a new, volunteer led organisation and this was the first time we had to follow the regulations. We also could not have been expected to know an election was coming, with the Fixed Term Parliament Act supposedly fixing a date for elections and Theresa May repeatedly stated that she was not going to call a snap election.
We won’t make these mistakes again. In accordance with the wishes of the Electoral Commission, we have put in place comprehensive systems end processes so we can fully adhere to the regulations next time and be ready for an election if it’s called tomorrow.
Adhering to these regulations is costly, end that’s why we will launch a fundraising drive to pay these harsh fines a. to ensure we’re ready to win the next election for Labour.