Electoral watchdog confirms fine for £435,000 donation to DUP
THE pro-Brexit group that gave the DUP the largest political donation in Northern Ireland's electoral history broke electoral law by failing to report the donation.
It has been confirmed that the Constitutional Research Council (CRC) was fined £6,000 for failing to notify the Electoral Commission of its £435,000 donation.
The bulk of the funds, which were declared permissible by the watchdog in 2016 after an investigation, was spent by the DUP on pro-Brexit advertising in England.
It was widely speculated last year that the CRC was fined for breaching electoral law, after the commission revealed on its website that it had imposed a £6,000 sanction connected to a political donation in Northern Ireland, but gave no name, offence, or summary of the decision.
The commission stated only that it imposed the penalty due to “failures by a regulated entity” but could not “disclose further information” because of legal restrictions.
However, the BBC has unearthed new correspondence from the Electoral Commission which confirms the sanction against CRC for the first time.
The correspondence was released by the Good Law Project, an organisation currently campaigning to stop Brexit.
The CRC is chaired by Richard Cook, a former vice-chairman of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. Mr Cook was contacted by the BBC but declined to comment.
Jolyon Maugham QC, the founder of the Good Law Project, criticised the Electoral Commission for its failure to probe the CRC donation further.
"The Electoral Commission was faced with an extraordinary set of facts – the largest political donation in Northern Ireland's history, funnelled through a shadowy unincorporated association to the DUP, and spent primarily in Scotland and England," he said.
"It responded with the bare minimum and even now, when new facts have come to light, refuses to do more."
The DUP did report the donation and has consistently insisted it complied with electoral law at all times
A party spokesperson said: "We have nothing to add to our previous comments on this matter."
The names of those who donated the money to the CRC have never been released.