Mo­men­tum un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for gen­eral elec­tion spend­ing

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Christo­pher Hope chief Po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent

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.”

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