Momentum under investigation for general election spending
MOMENTUM, the group behind the Left-wing takeover of the Labour Party, is facing fines and a possible criminal investigation over whether it breached spending limits during the general election.
The electoral watchdog is investigating the group after it claims to have spent just £39,000, despite raising £580,000 from its members during the year. Momentum has been largely credited by MPS and supporters of leader Jeremy Corbyn with mobilising grassroots backing for Labour which led to the party exceeding expectations in June’s snap election.
Thousands of volunteers were deployed across the country to campaign for local Labour candidates in dozens of marginal seats ahead of polling day.
In one case Chris Williamson, a Labour MP, told The Guardian a fortnight after election day that “I owe a debt of gratitude to Momentum” and “it was Momentum that helped Labour win back Derby North”.
The group’s social media strategy reached millions of voters and was said to have persuaded young people to vote Labour for the first time.
Spending for Momentum as a non-party campaigning organisation is limited to £31,980 in England, £3,540
in Scotland, £2,400 in Wales and £1,080 in Northern Ireland for the regulated period, which this year stretched for 12 months before the June 8 ballot.
Momentum was only allowed to breach this overall spending cap of £39,000 if authorised by the Labour Party to do so. Labour said it had not given Momentum this permission.
The watchdog said its investigation would focus on whether Momentum, which was founded by Jon Lansman to campaign for Mr Corbyn as Labour leader, overspent and whether it returned accurate information to the commission.
The Electoral Commission can fine Momentum a maximum of £20,000 per offence, or refer to police if it finds evidence of other criminal activity.
Bob Posner, the commission’s director of political finance and regulation and legal counsel, said: “Momentum are a high-profile active campaigning body. Questions over their compliance with the campaign finance rules at June’s general election risks causing harm to voters’ confidence in elections. There is significant public interest in us investigating Momentum to establish the facts in this matter.
“Once complete, the Commission will decide whether any breaches have occurred and, if so, what further action may be appropriate, in line with its enforcement policy.”
The inquiry was triggered after an audit of information was submitted by Momentum to the commission.
Momentum boasts a network of more than 23,000 members, 150 local groups and 200,000 supporters. Last month it emerged that the group had raised £580,000 a year in membership fees plus more in extra one-off sums.
The group reported total spending of £38,742.54 across all of the UK during the general election campaign, £257.46 below the £39,000 limit.
A commission source said: “The current four [investigations] do not involve criminal investigations. However this is an ongoing investigation.”
A Momentum spokesman said: “We have a good working relationship with the Electoral Commission, and will fully comply with the investigation going forward.”