These elections show it’s time to update our analogue campaign rules for the digital ageby Darren Hughes / May 22, 2019 / Leave a comment
This week the Electoral Commission announced it was investigating Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party over questions about its online fundraising operation.
The concern is that thousands of donations are being made, virtually anonymously, via PayPal—the online payment system—that could fall foul of political funding rules.
But this investigation is just one snapshot of a much bigger picture.
UK Election law is based on a clear principle that funding from abroad is not allowed—though even this is open for exploitation, with foreign actors able to set up UK registered trading companies and donate to our political parties, circumventing this simple principle.
Alongside this, the increasing use platforms such as PayPal or crowdfunding sites often mean that where funds are coming from is hard to assess and easy to hide.
Technology around online campaigning and fundraising is developing and changing everyday—yet our electoral and campaign rules remain dangerously out of date.
Since 2003, the Electoral Commission has been calling for online campaign materials to carry ‘imprints’ (showing who has paid for and published political materials) to bring them in line with physical campaign literature.
As this week has shown, the rules around fundraising online remain dangerously behind the times too.
Despite these concerns, no government has grasped the nettle and taken the necessary action to update the rules.
The questions around online payments made to political parties go beyond simply being a matter of financial fair play. If unexplained, unreported and unnamed donations are being used to influence our elections then our whole democratic process is undermined.
Questions still remain about the funding and spending during the EU referendum campaign, has increasing the hostility and anger around an already fraught political debate.
This concern over donations is just one of a number of instances where our electoral laws, drawn up more than 20 years ago, no longer do the job that was asked of them. There are multiple loopholes in our campaign rules through which potential foreign interference in the electoral process might be possible.
Our recent report Reining in the Political ‘Wild West’: Campaign Rules for the 21st Century drew together academics, campaigners and electoral experts and called for swift action to close these loopholes.
Last week MPs from both sides of Parliament stepped up efforts to update our…