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The Electoral Commission must investigate the CRC, the secretive group behind the £435,000 donation to the DUP.
The High Court ruled on Friday that the Electoral Commission got the law wrong around donations at the time of the EU Referendum and confirmed that a person donating a sum of money also incurs a referendum expenditure under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000 if that person donates a sum of money and also controls how it is spent. You can read about it in the Guardian here.
We know that during the EU Referendum campaign hundreds of thousands of pounds were donated by a secretive organisation called the Constitutional Research Council (CRC) to the DUP. We know this because the DUP confirmed that it had received a very large donation from the CRC, chaired by a Mr Richard Cook, a former vice chairman of the Scottish Conservatives.
Some £282,000 of that donation was used in June 2016 by the DUP to take out a four-page advertisement in The Metro – a free newspaper for London commuters but not available in Northern Ireland where the DUP is based – which urged people to “Take back control” and “Vote to leave”.
Very little is known about the CRC and those behind it. But a BBC investigation found that the persons who donated £435,000 to the DUP for it to spend on “Vote to Leave” ads in The Metro and on AIQ also controlled how that donation was spent. The BBC reported that the advertising in The Metro was arranged directly by Mr Cook of the CRC, rather than members of the DUP.
We believe, following Friday’s High Court ruling, that this means that the £282,000 is a qualifying expense by the CRC. The money was spent during the referendum period and was self-evidently spent in connection with promoting a ‘leave’ outcome. If this is right the CRC would have had an obligation to try and register with the Electoral Commission as a permitted participant.
The Electoral Commission has repeatedly refused to investigate the donation. Just like it refused to investigate Vote Leave’s relationship with Darren Grimes. We believe it must. So on Friday we sent it this letter threatening further judicial review proceedings.
We believe the DUP was a willing patsy, used because of PPERA secrecy laws, used by persons unknown to channel unlawful, secret funds to Leave. Help us find out who funded Leave. Help us uncover the shadowy donors who helped buy our democracy. Help us, once again, force the Electoral Commission to do its job.
Please spare whatever you can to help us throw light on the dark money that engulfed the 2016 EU Referendum. See our crowdfunding page.
The initial target will enable us to apply for permission. The stretch target will enable us to proceed to the full hearing if we succeed in gaining permission.
Funds will be used to instruct the legal team – Jessica Simor QC, Tom Cleaver, Eleanor Mitchell and Deighton Pierce Glynn – and pursue judicial review proceedings against the Electoral Commission. In the event that there are surplus funds these will be used to support the other litigation brought or to be brought by the Good Law Project.