New Tory MP for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith, is facing an Electoral Commission inquiry after Channel 4 News and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found indications he spent significantly more on his campaign than the maximum allowed.
The Electoral Commission permitted parliamentary candidates to spend no more than £11,003 from the day parliament was dissolved to the day of the election itself. Goldsmith declared that he spent £10,783 - but the documents submitted include an invoice for £14k on 272,000 posters and leaflets alone. What the returns seem to do is reduce these costs by claiming items weren't used, or were used in other campaigns - like an invoice for £2,800 for 600 signs and boards, of which only 10% of the cost is claimed. So residents of Richmond, were there more than 60 signs for Zac Goldsmith where you lived? One of our favourites is the spend on team jackets saying "I back Zac" - only the slogan sticker was deemed part of the campaign.
Goldsmith went on Sky News last night to complain of sleazy journalism, saying that plenty of other candidates used the same formula as him and that Channel 4 are targeting him because he's high profile. The news team refute this utterly, retorting:
"The issues we found regarding Mr Goldsmith's campaign expenses are materially different and of a different scale to those found in other returns we looked at."
The Electoral Commission are investigating, and will announce in the next few days whether there'll be an inquiry.
Why is this important? Well, clearly if one candidate is spending far more than the others, the visibility of that candidate's promotional material gives them an unfair advantage. Goldsmith ousted Lib Dem incumbent Susan Kramer by just over 4,000 votes - it's a relatively comfortable margin but, if he did overspend, would it have been closer? Election expense fraud - which is what's being implied - can even lead to criminal prosecution, as in the case of former Labour MP Fiona Jones (who was later cleared on appeal). Did Goldsmith buy the election? We'll have to wait and see.