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UKIP flout election law in campaign overspend

HOPE not hate calls on the police to investigate Nigel Farage’s failed bid to win South Thanet in the 2015 General Election.

UKIP flout election law in campaign overspend

An exclusive HOPE not hate investigation has found that UKIP flouted election law during the 2015 General Election in the seat its leader Nigel Farage was contesting in South Thanet. Through failing to declare significant election expenditure, misallocating spending and ignoring electoral convention in dividing costs between general election and local council candidates, Nigel Farage’s campaign failed to appropriately declare at least £26,302 in its electoral returns and possibly well over £35,000.

While candidates were allowed to spend £15,087.30 in the ‘short’ campaign, the period from 9 April until polling day on 7 May, our investigation has found UKIP spent at least £26,000, a huge overspend.

Such is the scale of its overspend, one can reasonably ask whether the agent deliberately hid campaign expenditure to ensure the party’s returns came in under the permitted level and, if he did so, whether this took place with the knowledge of the candidate, Nigel Farage, and UKIP high command.

With a police investigation already taking place into alleged over-spending by the Conservative Party in South Thanet, HOPE not hate is calling for it to be widened to include UKIP.

* * *

There are strict spending limits for political parties during election campaigns. Parliamentary candidates in the South Thanet constituency were permitted to spend £37,037.30 in the long campaign (18 Dec – 8 April) and a further £15,087.30 in the short campaign (9 April – 7 May). After the election, the agent of each candidate has to submit detailed returns on what money they spent and provide accompanying receipts.

An investigation of UKIP’s returns in South Thanet by HOPE not hate suggests that Nigel Farage’s campaign broke the spending rules by not including significant election expenditure, accounting for campaign items spent in the short campaign in the long campaign and ignoring Electoral Commission guidance for splitting costs between candidates.

And, by exploiting grey areas in election rules, Farage’s team split tens of thousands of pounds in electoral expenditure with local district and and parish councillors UKIP was standing in Thanet. So ridiculous was this process, that the campaign divided Farage’s taxi fares 65 ways!

The largest missing expenditure in the short campaign is that of staff working directly on the South Thanet campaign. According to a former paid campaign organiser, UKIP employed eight full time campaign staff in South Thanet in the weeks running up to the election. Of the eight names provided by our source three have subsequently confirmed they were indeed employed and paid, while a further four refused to comment.

HOPE not hate has spoken to one of the paid campaign staff and obtained evidence, including an employment contract and payslip, that show campaign staff being employed for 40 hours a week from mid March 2015 until the election on 7 May. The campaigner was paid £1700 for his work and the contract, which was issued by the party nationally, specifically names South Thanet as the area of employment.

UKIP contract of employment

The campaign worker, who has requested anonymity, said: “I was surprised to see my employment omitted from the electoral returns. At first I thought it was an oversight but then I realised that the others employed were not included either.”

According to our source, the campaign staff worked solely on getting Farage elected. They ran canvassing teams, input data at the party’s campaign base and distributed leaflets.

According to our source, the campaign staff included: Darren Meacher, Rhiannon Ellis, Charlie Leys, Ty Nash, Billy Dennis, Sam Osmond, Duncan Smithson and UKIP’s current Young Independence Chairman Jamie Ross McKenzie.

Only Duncan Smithson appears anywhere on UKIP’s South Thanet election returns and even then he has been misallocated to the long campaign return when a portion of his labour should have appeared in the short campaign too.

Three of the campaign team admitted that they were paid to work on Nigel Farage’s election campaign, while four others refused to answer questions.

Several of the campaign staff were on hand to help with publicity campaigns, such as posing with Farage at the launch of a billboard campaign in support of UKIP’s election pledge to re-open Manston airport. While Farage was front and centre of the airport campaign, he failed to declare any of the estimated £900 the party spent on the mobile advan they used to promote the campaign.

Photo from Kent Online

Nigel Farage and Ukip campaigners with the Save Manston poster truck. (source: http://www.kentonline.co.uk/thanet/news/nigel-farage-rolls-out-pledge-34875/)

Likewise, Farage’s campaign did not include party billboards that were up across the constituency in the final week of the campaign. While UKIP might try to argue that these were general campaign posters, and so should be accounted for in national expenditure, the fact that Farage’s face featured prominently on the posters and they were placed in the constituency he was contesting means that at least a proportion of the costs should have been allotted to his expenses.

billboard

Photo http://www.dw.com/en/ukips-farage-battles-for-his-future-in-south-thanet/a-18432675

Misallocated Funds

Additionally, several items of expenditure were misallocated to the long campaign return when they should have appeared in the short.

Alongside Duncan Smithson’s wages, other misallocated items in the long return include £2000 for “Correx” lightweight advertising boards, an item for which no receipt or invoice was included. This is the sole mention of the correx boards in either the long or short returns, despite the fact that “Vote for Nigel Farage” boards were erected in South Thanet during the short campaign period.

South Thanet office

Posters for Nigel Farage being erected near Manston Airport, 17 April 2015. Photo: Ady Kerry / Alamy Stock Photo

The campaign office

Farage’s campaign was run out of 21 King Street, a shop that was donated to the party for the election period by local businessman Alan Bown. The photos of the office make it very clear that this was his campaign HQ.

South Thanet office

Despite being quite clearly Farage's campaign HQ, the former UKIP leader shared the cost of this office equally with 62 district and parish council candidates

The office was split into two parts. The front was a more traditional office, designed to accept interested members of the public and display campaign posters and materials. The back was the engine room, from which his campaign was really run. A call centre operated from within it and leaflets and canvass sheets were bundled up ready for distribution.

It was from this office that Farage’s campaign staff operated. Furthermore, the boarding around the outside of the office and the materials visible inside exclusively promoted Nigel Farage.

Despite clearly being Farage’s campaign hub, he declared just £140.30 of the £4,420 it cost for the whole campaign, dividing the rest equally amongst 63 other UKIP candidates standing in the Thanet district and even parish council elections. During the short campaign period he declared just £70.15 of the £1360 he should have.

“The office was Farage’s base,” says our UKIP source. “This is where we ran his campaign out of and were all based. There was no canvassing done for district or parish candidates.”

Campaign organisers

After disappointing opinion polls and a growing alarm at the overall state of the campaign in early April, Farage drafted in Chris Bruni-Lowe, UKIP’s overall election strategist, and Raheem Kassam, Farage’s special advisor, to directly run the campaign. Both men left UKIP’s national office in Mayfair and spent the last few weeks of the campaign in Thanet.

“During the last six weeks of the election campaign, Kassam was dispatched to the target constituency to take charge as it became clear the Tories were throwing in more resources,” The Guardian reported. “He immediately moved into Farage’s flat in Ramsgate.”

In a long interview with The Guardian after the election, Kassam explained a typical day on the campaign trail. After an early breakfast of kippers at a nearby hotel “we’d rendezvous at the office and decide what we want to do for the day, which would involve some walkabouts and a lot of knocking on doors. Then we’d maybe hit a pub for lunch. Then more walkabouts and more canvassing. Then another pint around 5 o’clock, go out and do more evening canvassing. Then around 9, we’d go to The Smugglers [pub] for dinner or we’d go to La Magnolia [an Italian] and have a nice civilised meal.”

In their book “UKIP: Inside the Campaign to Redraw the Map of British Politics” Matthew Goodwin and Caitlin Milazzo go into great detail about the role Bruni-Lowe and Kassam played running Farage’s South Thanet campaign. According to Goodwin and Milazzo, Bruni-Lowe moved down to South Thanet a few days after Kassam. Goodwin even recounted a conversation between the pair:

“Listen” Bruni-Lowe said to Kassam, “If you don’t get down there we will lose the seat by 8,000 or 9,000 votes”.

“He would take personal control of the final push while also trying to orchestrate the entire campaign from Kent,” Goodwin continued. “Everything else, including events that were designed to support UKIP’s national effort, was now relegated down the list of priorities. It was now all about winning South Thanet.”

It would seem obvious then that the costs of Bruni-Lowe and Kassam would appear heavily on the expenses returns for the short campaign – but it was not to be the case. Only £500 was allotted to each in the returns, a clear case of under-reporting.

Raheem Kassam

Raheem Kassam (above, left) Chris Bruni-Lowe (below, right) out and out campaigning in Thanet with Nigel Farage

Chris Bruni-Lowe

“Kassam and Bruni-Lowe ran the campaign,” says our UKIP source. “They worked out of Farage’s campaign office and directed the operation. They told us where we had to go each day, organised the materials and decided on the campaign priorities.”

Although the Electoral Commission redacted the names of UKIP’s paid staff from the national electoral returns we do know that the two highest earners were paid £45,000 and £37,000 for the duration of the campaign. Given that Kassam and Bruni-Lowe were the two main election staff it is fair to surmise that they were the best paid.

Even if we accept that both men were still working on the national campaign too, which is in itself debatable, and just allocate 50% of their time to the South Thanet campaign, this still amounts to several thousand pounds – far higher than the £500 put down in the election returns.

Flouting common practice

In addition to failing to declare some campaign items at all and placing others in the long campaign even though they were spent in the short campaign period, UKIP also disregarded common electoral practice in the division of costs between national and local candidates.

In moves unheard of amongst several General Election candidates contacted by HOPE not hate, Nigel Farage’s team divided his campaign expenses equally amongst UKIP's district and even Parish candidates standing in Thanet.

Election experts told the Daily Telegraph last June that it is common practice in an election campaign for the main candidate to declare 50 per cent of the costs, allowing the other half to be split amongst local candidates.

The Electoral Commission issues guidance to candidates on splitting campaign expenditure between candidates, saying: “In all cases, you should make an honest assessment, based on the facts, of the proportion of the cost that can be fairly attributed to your campaign spending.”

Ignoring common practice, Farage split many of his expenses 64 ways meaning that often he paid the same amount for expenses such as leaflets and office hire as a single parish council candidate.

For example, Farage accounted for just £3.75 of the £239 UKIP spent on 5,000 leaflets entitled “Nigel Farage in South Thanet” as the cost was split 64 ways.

While the parish council candidates clearly benefited from the overall UKIP publicity, our UKIP sources tell us that there was no separate literature produced for these candidates and, indeed, very little that just focused on the district council candidates either.

“Most leaflets would have Farage pictured prominently on one side of the leaflet and then a mention of Manston airport on the other,” we were told. “That way the party could consciously split the costs with all the local candidates as well.”

However, a cursory look at the leaflets show clearly their main focus was Farage front and centre. Indeed, the invoices from the printers make it clear that they were printing Farage leaflets.

Rallies

The cost of 18 UKIP rallies and meetings throughout the election campaign was £5,030. Accepting electoral convention, Farage should have accounted for £2,385.51 on his returns but instead just put down £408.62.

The campaign’s biggest rally of the election was held at the Winter Gardens on 11 April and coincided with a national weekend of action. Large numbers of party supporters flocked into South Thanet to help Farage with his campaign. The rally was virtually a Farage show. While he was introduced by a local council candidate the UKIP leader was the key speaker and people had come to hear him. Despite being the overwhelming focus on the rally, Farage’s team split the costs a ridiculous 87 ways, so the same amount was attributed to his campaign costs as those of a parish council candidate.

Winter Gardens

Amongst the biggest items of expenditure on the short returns was a total of £4,855 to ‘MCH Support Services’ (run by former National Front member Martyn Heale) for organising the campaign days, producing the canvassing sheets and arranging for “Nigel Farage to meet members of the public, and arranging back drops etc” across South Thanet.

But despite being mainly for Farage’s campaign, his agent decided to split the costs 64 ways, to include all district and parish council candidates.

The sheer audacity of Farage splitting his expenses is encapsulated in the fact that he even shared his taxi bills with dozens of local district and parish councillors. This resulted in the ludicrous situation whereby Farage reported the cost of 16 taxi journeys in South Thanet at just £1.85.

taxi bills

One of the difficulties in determining the exact extent of over-spend is the chaotic nature of the expenses returns. Several items clearly spent in the short campaign have been placed in the long campaign returns and some local costs appear in the party’s national expenditure.

More worryingly, it is clear that UKIP staff members actually wrote many of the receipts themselves. Receipts for the newspaper wraps and adverts (totalling about £10,000), office costs, room hire and utility bills were hand written on scraps of notepaper without any company heading.

handwritten expenses

UKIP submitted handwritten receipts for many of their campaign expenses. It is clear that some of these receipts - for very different items – were written by the same person

Police investigation

HOPE not hate believes that UKIP failed to declare at least £26,302 – and possibly as much as £35,000 – of election expenditure on its returns, much of which was in the short campaign. Some of this was the result of simply failing to declare significant campaign expenses – such as the staff who worked on the campaign. Then there are items misallocated to the long campaign even though they were used in the short. Finally, there was the clear abuse of Electoral Commission guidelines over the division of campaign costs between candidates.

The level of undeclared or misallocated expenditure raises serious questions as to whether there was a deliberate ploy, sanctioned by Nigel Farage and UKIP HQ, to keep campaign costs below the permitted level. This amounts to nothing more than the flouting of election law.

Given that a police investigation is already under way into alleged under-reporting by the Conservative Party in South Thanet it would seem appropriate for the inquiry to be widened to incorporate Nigel Farage’s agent Chris Bruni-Lowe, Nigel Farage and UKIP itself.

UKIP were contacted for comment but provided no answer.


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