Political groups that break the law should be slapped with unlimited fines to stem the influence of “dirty money and dodgy data misuse” in UK elections, MPs have said.
A new report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Electoral Campaigning Transparency warned that British elections were open to abuse due to outdated electoral laws and called for an end to the cap on fines for breaches of the rules.
The penalty for breaking strict spending laws is £20,000, a sum the head of electoral watchdog said was seen by some donors as “just the cost of doing business”.
Cross-party MPs suggested a new Office for Election Integrity aimed at “stopping rule-breakers slipping through the regulatory gaps”, as well as an end to the cap on fines for breaching electoral law.
Moves need to be made to “close foreign donor loopholes” by ensuring all donations have to be UK-based and powers must be given to the Electoral Commission to allow it to launch prosecutions, the report added.
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who chairs the group, said: “The outdated nature of UK election law has pitched us into a battle for the very soul of our democracy.
“Facebook and other digital giants now play a hugely significant role in our elections and referendums, but most of the current legislation was created before the phrase ‘social media’ even existed.
“It was in 2018 that the cracks in our democratic processes really started to show, when former chief executive of the Electoral Commission, Claire Bassett, told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee the current maximum per-offence fine of £20,000 was – for political actors – no more than ‘a cost of doing business’.
“Now, nearly four years on from the EU referendum, absolutely nothing has been done to protect our system from dodgy money and dirty data.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas said the law-breaking over spending limits exposed vulnerabilities in the system.
“Both Leave campaigns broke spending limits but the fines available to the Electoral Commission were derisory,” she said.
“We are used to some political parties having much deeper pockets than others.
“But if we want people to have faith in our democracy and in the fairness of the outcome of elections, we must have transparency over how parties are being funded, so people know where the money is coming from and who is behind it.”