The Electoral Commission was created following a recommendation by the 5th report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The Commission's mandate was set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, and ranges from the regulation of political donations and expenditure by political and third parties through to promoting greater participation in the electoral process. The Electoral Administration Act 2006 required local authorities to review all polling stations, and to provide a report on the reviews to the Electoral Commission.
It is an independent regulatory body which reports to the Speaker of the House of Commons, and is answerable to the Courts. It is accountable to legislators in all three parliaments.
The Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 granted the Electoral Commission a variety of new supervisory and investigatory powers. It filled significant gaps in the Commission's powers, and also provided a new range of flexible civil sanctions, both financial and non-financial are currently proposed to extend to regulated donees as well as political parties.
The Act also permitted the introduction of individual electoral registration in Great Britain and made changes to the structure of the Electoral Commission, including allowing for the appointment of four new electoral commissioners who will be nominated by political parties.
The Electoral Commission faced widespread criticism for its handling of the General Election 2010, including allegations of fraudulent postal voting, polling stations being unprepared for an evening surge of voters, policing of voters protesting at one polling station, and only enough ballot papers for 80% of voters.
When it was first set up, the Electoral Commission faced accusations that the only reason the Labour Govt had created such a body was for partisan advantage against the Conservative Party, in particular to try to prevent Lord Ashcroft from continuing to fund the Conservatives.
The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 revolutionised party funding in Britain by introducing new rules on party fundraising and spending. The act doesn't bar all big donations but it does insist that parties reveal where they come from and blocks some sources completely.
The act fulfils a commitment in Labour's 1997 election manifesto to examine party funding. This promise arose as a response to the perceived sleaze of the Conservative party when in office. An added attraction was the fact that the Conservative party has always been richer than Labour. Reform was expected to even up the balance, to Labour's advantage. So far, it hasn't worked out like that.
When it entered office, the Govt asked the Committee on Standards in Public Life to suggest reforms. These were published in 1998 and most were implemented in the 2000 act.
The main requirement of the Act is for parties to reveal the source of all national donations above £5,000 (and all local ones above £1,000). It also bans donations of more than £200 from non-UK voters; requires shareholders to approve donations from listed companies; restricted donations to organisations that might help parties; and set new limits on election spending.
So far the biggest impact has been on the general election. The Act set up a new organisation, the Electoral Commission, to manage elections - including spending and fundraising. The new rules came into effect for the 2001 election. For the first time, these rules set a limit on overall spending by each party on their election campaigns - in 2001 the limit was ~£14m. More importantly, the new rules mean that the public can find out the names of everyone who gave more than £200 to a political party. Less important were restrictions banning people not on the electoral roll from donating money to parties - largely because Commonwealth citizens as well as UK citizens are allowed to vote in the UK. However, Mr Ashcroft, many of whose businesses are based overseas, faced some restrictions, as did Sean Connery, the Scottish National party's famous donor, who does not live in Scotland.
I checked this with the Electoral Commission a few weeks ago and their response was that it’s legal: “Political parties can receive sums of money from foreign nationals if it’s under £500.”
So I think I’ve got this: law bans impermissible donations, ie non-British. But! Electoral Commission say anything below £500 is NOT a ‘donation’. Brexit Party was set up to take *only* ‘not-donations’ of < £500 and does no ID checks. So £$€ can be from anyone, anywhere in any multiples.
Political parties in the UK are restricted in who they can accept donations from. Individual donors have to be British citizens, or Irish, EU and Commonwealth citizens living in the UK. A donation in the UK is: “money, goods or services given to a party without charge or on non-commercial terms, with a value of over £500.” The laws were originally introduced in 2000, partly in response to concerns that foreign sources could donate to political parties in the UK.
The Electoral Commission will only act on the advice of the Police; it does not itself investigate alleged law breaking - it must be reported to the Police first.
- Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 introduced individual electoral registration (formerly household) from Jul.01.2010; 4 new Commissioners; Commission to have new powers to investigate breaches of the law on party and election finance; new spending limits on GE candidates; donation threshold rise from £200 - £500 and reporting threshold rise from £5,000 - £7,500 (for party HQs and members’ associations) and from £1,000 - £1,500 (for accounting units and individuals); donations over £7,500 must confirm the source and donor must be UK resident and tax-domiciled.
- Previous Home Secretary confirmed his intention to conduct a review of the rules under which the Boundary Commissions work (Jan.1997 HoC debate); in evidence to the Hansard Scoiety Commission, the Conservatives supported changes to the rules on local expenditure limits.
- 1993: Labour Party's Working Party on Electoral Systems, chaired by Lord Raymond Plant, considered wide-ranging reform in its 1993 report; a commitment to establish an Electoral Commission was included in the party's "A new Agenda for Democracy (1993).
- Sept.1991: Hansard Society report's recommendation that an electoral commission independent of local or central government should be created. The 1991 report of the Hansard Society, an all-party—or no-party—commission of great authority and weight.
- Nov.1985: Labour Party Commission on Electoral Strategy was set up to address concerns about electoral engagement and participation, and political party funding.
- Nov.02.2020: The government is trying to undermine the Electoral Commission - we need to save it. In Jul.2020, the Committee on Standards in Public Life launched an inquiry on how our elections are regulated. The inquiry rightly saw calls for cleaning up Britain’s broken party funding rules. There is growing public concern over "inadequate control/regulation of political donations. Darren Hughes, Electoral Reform Society, Politics.co.uk.
- Aug.31.2020: The mafia-style attack on the Electoral Commission. Cummings and Johnson are now proposing to limit what few powers our feeble Electoral Commission possesses or abolish it. The Tories cannot forgive the Electoral Commission for investigating Vote Leave. The Tories want politicians to ‘guide’ investigations into political fraud. Nick Cohen, The Spectator.
- Aug.31.2020: Tory plan to scrap election watchdog 'undermines democracy'. Labour and Lib Dems says threat to Electoral Commission is bid to stop exposure on Russian funding connections. Peter Walker, The Guardian.
- May.16.2019: The government’s voter ID scheme is a dangerous step towards electoral suppression in the UK – just look at America. Electoral Commission data suggests that in 2017 there were 28 cases of voter fraud at polling stations. Knowing this, it’s hard not to feel furious at preliminary reports on a 2nd trial of compulsory voter ID during the recent local elections. In the 8 test areas that have so far given figures, a total of 819 people were turned away from polling stations and didn’t return. A 2014 report by the Electoral Commission – which suggested, with little concrete evidence, that voter fraud is a “serious issue” in the UK – fuelled unfounded perceptions that the issue is widespread in South Asian communities. The same thing happened after the Tower Hamlets election fraud scandal. The Eric Pickles’ report came out suggesting that “politically correct sensibilities” were stopping us from tackling voter fraud, again, based on hearsay and largely weak data. This discriminatory effect appears to be the entire point of the scheme. The suggestion that our govt is attempting to subvert democracy and rig the electoral system might seem shocking, but what other explanation is there? What possible alternative reason to press on with a scheme to disenfranchise 7.5m people, conceived as a solution to a problem that doesn’t even exist? It seems the Tories have been taking tips from over the Atlantic, where similar ploys have long been part of the electoral landscape. Abi Wilkinson, The Independent.
- May.01.2019: Electoral Commission's £436,000 bill fighting Brexit campaigner. Court papers reveal Electoral Commission estimates that the cost of resisting appeals by Darren Grimes will amount to £436,000, after the body recruited James Eadie QC, the Government's most senior advocate, to argue its case in court. The watchdog fined Mr Grimes, the founder of the BeLeave campaign group, last year after concluding that he had wrongly reported £620,000 of spending on the 2016 Brexit referendum. Edward Malnick, The Telegraph.
- Apr.01.2019: “Not in the public interest”: why the Electoral Commission didn’t investigate Vote Leave and DUP donation. It also said that money obtained from crime might not make a political donation unlawful. The comments were made following concerns raised in a BBC Northern Ireland documentary about a secretive £435,000 donation given to the DUP’s Brexit campaign. Last week, Vote Leave dropped its appeal against the Electoral Commission’s ruling that it broke the law in a different way – by channelling hundreds of thousands of pounds of donations to BeLeave, another pro-Brexit campaign group. The official Vote Leave campaign, whose leaders included Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, has been fined multiple times and referred to the Metropolitan Police for breaking electoral law. Jenna Corderoy, Peter Geoghegan, openDemocracy.
- Sept.14.2018: The High Court has just found that the Electoral Commission erred in law. the Electoral Commission unlawfully gave permission to Vote Leave to spend more than Parliament had allowed. It gave that permission to Vote Leave but there is no suggestion it gave it to Stronger In. The body in charge of ensuring the Referendum was fair ensured it was unfair. Vote Leave broke the law twice over. It broke the law – as the EC has already found – by ‘working together’ with Darren Grimes. The shady Constitutional Research Council – which donated to the DUP – is likely also to have broken the law. This excellent BBC investigation suggests the CRC controlled the DUP’s spending. Jolyon Maugham QC, Twitter. See also Troubled Electoral Commission faces calls to be abolished after High Court ruled they gave dodgy advice to referendum campaigners.
- May.11.2018: The Electoral Commission isn’t a “Blairite swamp” – but Leave.EU is right about one thing. The EC has a problem – but it’s one of weakness rather than influence. Modern campaigning just cannot be bound by our archaic election spending laws. The rules don’t cover online campaigning in any depth, for example, other than requiring you to file invoices from Facebook or Twitter as you would from every other service used. There are so many ways of getting around spending rules – especially the completely arbitrary divide between overall national spending and individual constituency campaign budgets in a general election – and social media has made it even harder to follow them. Also, parties and campaign groups can only be investigated by the Electoral Commission for their activity during the regulated period before polling day. This limits its scope. Remember David Cameron spending £9m of taxpayer’s money on pro-EU leaflets to every home in the country? That was allowed, because it was before the regulated period. The New Statesman.
- Nov.21.2017: Electoral Commission documents reveal more details on Vote Leave donations. Election watchdog reopens investigation into Vote Leave’s payments to a fashion student who then spent large sums with social media marketing firm. Vote Leave, Grimes and a third group, Veterans for Britain, are under investigation by the election regulator over referendum spending. Jessica Elgot, David Pegg, The Guardian.
- [Watchdog launches inquiry into chaos at polling stations Watchdog launches inquiry into chaos at polling stations.] Jerome Taylor, The Independent, May.08.2010.
- [Election 2010: Voters' frustrations at polling problems Election 2010: Voters' frustrations at polling problems.] Hundreds of voters were turned away from polling stations across England when polls closed at 2200 BST in Thursday's UK general election. BBC News, May.07.2010.
- 'Astronomical turnout' blamed for ballot papers running out in Liverpool. Election chiefs in Liverpool were expected to make a statement tonight after a number of city polling stations ran out of ballot papers denying people the right to vote. Marc Waddington, Liverpool Echo, May.06.2010.
- UK’s Electoral Commission rules that “England worth fighting for!” is OFFENSIVE! Robin Tilbrook, Hertfordshire English Democrats Supporters Club, Oct.28.2017.
- Political Parties: Funding. House of Lords, Vol.690, Hansard, Mar.15.2007.
- Political Parties and Elections Bill. Daily Hansard: Orders of the Day, Parliament.uk, Oct.20.2008.
- Explained: Labour party funding. Labour's national executive committee meets tomorrow to consider plans to raise the party's typical membership fee by 70% in an attempt to stave off a cash crisis. Julian Glover, The Guardian, Jul.22.2002.
- Most non-UK citizens can’t donate to UK political parties. Parties can accept money from people on the electoral register. Irish, EU and Commonwealth citizens living in the UK can be eligible as well. Generally only UK and Irish businesses can donate. Full Fact, Mar.16.2018.
- The Political Parties and Elections Act in action. The Electoral Commission, Jan.26.2010.
- Establishing an Electoral Commission. Constitution Unit: Briefing 11, University College London, Mar.1997.
- "Agenda for change: the report of the Hansard Society Commission on Election Campaigns.", Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government: Commission on Election Campaigns., Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government, 1991.
- Representation Of The People (Amendment) Bill. Orders Of The Day, Hansard: House of Commons, Feb.12.1993.
- The Commission: Report of First Meeting of Labour Party Commission on Electoral Strategy. Irish Left Archive, Nov.1985.