Channel 4 News: Zac Goldsmith has “questions to answer” about election spending

by Stephen Tall on July 15, 2010

Channel 4 News will tonight broadcast the results of an investigation which it claims show Conservative MP for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith, has serious questions to answer about the accuracy of his election expenses.

The total allowable expenses for the campaign for all candidates was £11,003. Zac’s official returns show he spent 98% of his limit, just £220 below the limit. Channel 4 News questions whether on three specific items – his spending on political signs, personalised jackets and campaign leaflets – Zac’s claims would have been higher if he had complied with both the letter and the spirit of the law.

Here’s how the Channel 4 News website are reporting (with very careful lawyer-approved wording) their findings:

During a closely fought and at times bitterly contested campaign Cameron made a point of promising a new, cleaner politics in the wake of the expenses scandal. So did Goldsmith stick to the letter and spirit of the law on election spending? …. when Channel 4 News and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism looked at his receipts in detail, there were some puzzling items.

They then look in turn at the claims:

… if the Goldsmith campaign was wrong to shift half the cost of the signs from his parliamentary campaign to the local council campaign, then he could well have breached his legal spending limit – and he could have broken the law. Just going over by one pound could amount to an offence.

if Goldsmith was wrong to leave the cost of the jackets out of his declaration, he would be over his legal limit.

The final big-spending item was the cost of Goldsmith’s campaign leaflets. He ordered 272,000 posters and leaflets which invoices show cost more than £14,000. This cost alone would have taken him over his spending limit.

But Goldsmith’s campaign reduced the costs in various ways. One that stuck out was his claim that he simply did not use 62,000 of them. This helped cut his spending declaration by more than £2,500.

In other words, he only declared what he claims he used, rather than what he ordered. Some other candidates also only accounted for what they used but in Goldsmith’s case the sums were large.

We should note that Zac Goldsmith’s election agent disputes any suggestion of sharp practice: “We were scrupulous in ensuring that all our election expenses complied with both the letter and the spirit of Electoral Commission rules.”