Watchdog launches review into election finance regulation

A sleaze watchdog has launched a review into the way election and referendum campaign finances are regulated.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) will look at how the Electoral Commission, police and Crown Prosecution Service enforce and regulate donations and campaign expenditure.

A public consultation will begin on Monday.

The review will seek to identify the principles and values that should underpin the regulation of donations and campaign spending by political parties, candidates and non-party campaigners.

It will also examine the Electoral Commission’s remit as a regulator, and consider whether it requires new powers.

And the review will consider whether the commission should play a role in criminal prosecutions for election finance law breaches.

CSPL chairman Lord Evans said: “Our predecessors on the committee recommended the setting up of the Electoral Commission in 1998 and last looked at its work in 2007. Since then, digital campaigning has revolutionised the way parties and campaigners engage with voters.

“It has made it harder to track how much is being spent, on what, where and by whom. This review will look at the system for the regulation of election finance and whether it meets the challenges of elections in the 21st century. We are not reviewing wider aspects of the commission’s work in this review or looking at how political parties raise funds.

“We are keen to hear from anyone who has experience or views on the regulation of party finance. We particularly want to hear from those with first-hand experience of regulating or being regulated and from third party campaigners. We need your input.

“Fair and free elections are the basic tenet of democracy. Voters should feel confident that campaigners operate on a level playing field and that political finance is robustly, transparently and effectively regulated during elections. We intend to report with any recommendations by June 2021.”

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said: “The review launched by the Committee on Standards in Public Life is a welcome look at the regulatory framework on election finance, enforced by the commission, the police and the courts.

“This framework ensures the integrity and transparency of democracy and political finance are maintained in the UK, and underpins public confidence in our democratic process.

“Since the current regulatory regime was established in 2000, the nature of campaigning at elections and referendums has changed; the use of digital campaigning techniques is significant and electoral laws are struggling to keep pace.

“This makes CSPL’s work even more timely and valuable. We look forward to engaging with the committee on this review, and to discussing how the framework can be updated to strengthen financial regulation and deliver greater voter confidence.”

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