A report published today by the Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman Service found monitoring by the Electoral Commission into donations to the Liberal Democrat Party fell significantly short of what was required to meet the Electoral Commission's monitoring responsibilities.
The Ombudsman Service investigated a complaint concerning the adequacy of the enquiries the Electoral Commission carried out into donations to the Liberal Democrat Party. The donations were made between February and May 2005 and amounted to around £2.4 million.
The investigation focused solely on the actions taken by the Electoral Commission, which falls under the Ombudsman's jurisdiction, and did not make any findings or criticisms of the Liberal Democrat Party.
The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament, who regulate party and election finance. They are required to monitor political parties' compliance with the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Those rules require parties to 'take all reasonable steps' to establish that any donations are from permissible donors as defined by law.
The investigation found:
- The Electoral Commission failed to ask the Liberal Democrat Party for relevant information concerning the donations and so failed to monitor sufficiently its compliance with the 2000 Act.
- The Electoral Commission did not follow up concerns they had about the robustness of the checks the Liberal Democrat Party made into the donation they received.
Managing Director of the Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman Service Mick Martin said:
Our investigation was into the role and actions of the Electoral Commission and not that of the Liberal Democrat Party.
We found that the Electoral Commission failed to ask the Party for evidence of the checks they had made concerning the donations.
Even when new information came to light the Electoral Commission failed to make further enquiries as to whether the donations were allowed.
Overall the Electoral Commission did not fulfil its statutory responsibility to monitor whether the rules on party and election finance had been followed.
Disappointingly, the Electoral Commission continues to disagree with our findings of maladministration. We bring the report to the attention of Parliament for it to consider taking whatever action it feels appropriate in this case.
The Ombudsman's recommendations to the Electoral Commission are:
- To apologise to the complainant for the injustice he has suffered as a result of maladministration.
- To reflect on the lessons from this case to ensure the failings are not repeated again.
- To review the adequacy of their guidance on political party donations, in light of our findings.
Contact: Jeremy Dunning
Phone: 0300 061 4220