The Liberal Democrats has been given the maximum fine possible by the Electoral Commission after an investigation confirmed the party failed to declare nearly £185,000 of spending in the 2015 general election.
The UK's independent election watchdog announced on Tuesday morning that the Lib Dems had failed to declare 307 payments totalling £184,676 during the general election without a reasonable excuse.
The party has been handed a £20,000 fine, the biggest penalty the commission is capable of handing out, and it must be paid by 12 December. The matter has also been referred to the Metropolitan police.
The commission is now calling for stronger powers to be able to sanction political parties for breaking or bending spending rules, as it feels a £20,000 fine is no longer a strong enough deterrent.
Bob Posner, director of political finance at the Electoral Commission, said: “Our investigation uncovered systemic failures in ensuring that the rules were being followed. The party and its officers cooperated fully throughout the investigation.
"However, this is an experienced party that failed to meet the basic requirements of the law, and cases like this undermine voters’ confidence in our political finance system. This is why we have applied the highest financial penalty available to us.
"This also highlights why we have been calling on the UK government to make higher sanctioning powers available to us. With millions of pounds being spent by large parties looking to form national governments, a fine of £20,000 is no longer a strong enough deterrent to ensure the rules are properly followed.”
He added that the commission had notified the Met police of a possible criminal offence "should the party campaigns officer have knowingly or recklessly signed a false declaration in relation to the above spending".
A Lib Dem spokesperson said: “We always endeavour to ensure our reports of national campaign expenses are completed in full, in good time and according to all applicable rules.
"These mistakes, caused by issues with a small number of local accounting units, were a result of human error and failures of process. We are taking steps to ensure these mistakes are not repeated in future. We will cooperate fully with any investigation.”
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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