openDemocracyUK

What (precisely) is the Electoral Commission investigating Banks for?

The Electoral Commission has announced they are investigating Leave donor Arron Banks, after openDemocracy's investigation into his finances. But what are they looking at?

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
1 November 2017
arron banks_0.jpg

The Electoral Commission announcement today that it is investigating Arron Banks, the top Brexit campaign funder, has caused a bit of a splash. But what are they investigating him for?

As I was going through Alastair Sloan and Iain Campbell's research for their piece on Arron Banks for openDemocracy, the thing which always struck me as odd about Arron Banks’ donations to Brexit was not the scale of them. It wasn’t even that he may have given a bigger portion of his wealth than he let on. After all, rich people sometimes care about things. Sometimes they care a lot. What struck me as odd is, as I asked his sidekick Andy Wigmore on Twitter the other day, why use a front company? Why give the money, via that company, in the form of materials rather than cash? If the money did really all come from Banks, why did he channel it through a company called “Better for the Country Limited”, and, mostly, through non-cash donations? Why not just write a cheque?

TBH I'm not sure what I think about the Russia money claims. But if the cash was all Banks', why funnel it through a front company & gifts?

— Adam Ramsay (@AdamRamsay) October 24, 2017

Wigmore’s response – that they set up the company because they were trying to secure designation as the official Leave campaign – was baffling. You can read the Commission’s own explanation of its designation process here. I never understood why a front company would help with that.

We were trying to become the officially designated leave campaign - we lost - but @ElectoralCommUK rules were clear about what we had to do

— Andy Wigmore (@andywigmore) October 24, 2017

It’s gratifying, then, that that’s the first three things the Electoral Commission is investigating today, or, as they put it:

• Whether or not Better for the Country Limited was the true source of donations made to referendum campaigners in its name, or if it was acting as an agent.

• Whether the recipients of its donations were given the information required by PPERA [the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act of 2000] in respect of the donor.

• What steps the recipients took to verify the identity and permissibility of Better for the Country Limited as a donor. 

The Commission is asking, in other words, if this cash really all came from Arron Banks, or if that’s a cover for some other, secret source.

The next question relates directly to the main thrust of the piece written for openDemocracy by Alastair Sloan and Iain Campbell. They asked the simple question – based on months of digging through spreadsheets and accountants reports – “How could Arron Banks afford Brexit?”. Specifically, they relate to three separate non-commercial loans totalling £6 million that Arron Banks claims to have made to his Brexit campaign, Leave.EU.

The Commission says it will look at:

• Whether or not Mr Banks was the true source of loans reported by a referendum campaigner in his name.

• Whether those individuals and entities involved in that arrangement acted in accordance with PPERA.

• Whether any individual facilitated a transaction with a non-qualifying person.

You can read thoughts from our own Peter Geoghegan here:

Electoral Commission has announced it is investigating whether "Arron Banks breached campaign finance rules in relation to donations at the 2016 EU referendum.' (1/x)

— Peter Geoghegan (@PeterKGeoghegan) November 1, 2017

We'll keep you updated with what we know, when we know it.

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