17:03, September 29 67 0 theguardian.com

2017-09-29 17:03:03
Electoral Commission urged to reconsider view on Vote Leave spending

The Electoral Commission is to be challenged in court to reopen its investigation into £625,000 of spending that eventually reached a digital marketing company during the EU referendum last year.

The Good Law Project, which is headed by Jo Maugham QC, has written to the commission demanding that it reconsider its inquiry into how the funds reached AggregateIQ, a Canadian firm, in 2016.

Vote Leave gave the £625,000 to a student called Darren Grimes, which he then used to hire AggregateIQ. The firm then produced a targeted pro-leave Facebook ad campaign.

The commission, which is still investigating other aspects of Vote Leave’s spending, has, however, said the £625,000 given to Grimes did not breach electoral guidelines.

The commission confirmed that it “did look into the donations made by Vote Leave to Darren Grimes to consider whether they may have breached the ‘joint spending rules’”.

It added: “Under the EU referendum legislation, there must be spending as a result of a common plan or arrangement between campaigners in order for the rules on allocation of reportable campaign spending to apply.

“It is … acceptable under the law for donations to be made by one organisation to another by way of payment for services provided by a third party. Hence donations to Mr Grimes were made by way of a direct payment from Vote Leave to AggregateIQ for services provided to Mr Grimes, which is an acceptable method of donating under the rules.”

The Good Law Project said it had written to the commission as a formal precursor to judicial review proceedings in the high court. It has launched a crowdfunding appeal to raise money for the legal challenge.

Had the spending been that of Vote Leave, or been incurred as part of a common plan of Grimes and Vote Leave, it would have breached the rules, the Good Law Project alleges.

Maugham, the project’s founder, said: “We have spending limits to stop our democracy being captured by those with limitless sums to spend. The Electoral Commission’s role is to police those spending limits – to protect our democracy. If it doesn’t do its job our democracy can’t function.

“These facts raise obvious and serious questions about the conduct of the Electoral Commission and the referendum. Was our watchdog asleep on the job?”

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