The Electoral Commission has launched an official investigation to establish whether or not Better for the Country Limited and Arron Banks breached campaign finance rules in relation to donations at the 2016 EU referendum.
The investigation centres around the true source of the millions donated to Leave.EU and others by Banks which influenced the Brexit referendum.
There is already an ongoing and separate investigation into donations to Leave.EU which includes the donation of services by Trump data firm Cambridge Analytica.
“It is therefore in the public interest that the
Electoral Commission seeks to ascertain whether or not impermissible
donations were given to referendum campaigners and if any other
related offences have taken place.”
Better for the Country, of which Mr Banks is a director, was incorporated on 27 May 2015 and is registered at Companies House. It was not registered as a permitted participant in the EU referendum.
Five registered campaigners reported donations from Better For The Country during the referendum campaign period. These donations total £2,359,842.76
Banks was personally registered as a permitted participant in the EU referendum. He gave three loans on non-commercial terms to Leave.EU, another registered permitted participant at the referendum, totalling £6m.
“Better For The Country Limited last filed showing over one million pounds in shareholder funds. The company was registered with Companies House in May 2015, listing its nature as “other information services.” The directorships when I looked, in April and May 2017, showed the prominent Leave.EU figure Andrew Wigmore, Maria Ming, Alison Marshall, Elizabeth Bilney, the well-known UKIP donor Arron Banks, Ranja Abbot, and Dawn Williams.”
The investigation will probe whether or not Better for the Country Limited, Banks, and recipients of funds from them may have “committed offences, in relation to donations and/or loans made to campaigners at the 2016 EU Referendum.”
Investigators are focusing on:
· Whether or not Better for the Country Limited was the true source of donations made to referendum campaigners in its name, or if it was acting as an agent.
· Whether the recipients of its donations were given the information required by PPERA in respect of the donor.
· What steps the recipients took to verify the identity and permissibility of Better for the Country Limited as a donor.
· Whether or not Mr Banks was the true source of loans reported by a referendum campaigner in his name.
· Whether those individuals and entities involved in that arrangement acted in accordance with PPERA.
· Whether any individual facilitated a transaction with a non-qualifying person.
The Electoral Commission press release states: “It is possible that during the course of our investigation we will identify potential contraventions and/or offences under PPERA other than those set out above.”
Director of Political Finance and Regulation & Legal Counsel, Bob Posner, said: “Interest in the funding of the EU referendum campaigns remains widespread. Questions over the legitimacy of funding provided to campaigners at the referendum risks causing harm to voters’ confidence. It is therefore in the public interest that the Electoral Commission seeks to ascertain whether or not impermissible donations were given to referendum campaigners and if any other related offences have taken place.”
“The investigation will probe whether or not Better for the Country
Limited, Banks, and recipients of funds from them may have “committed
offences, in relation to donations and/or loans made to campaigners at
the 2016 EU Referendum.”
I have been sending evidence gathered in the course of journalistic investigations regarding Banks and others to both the Electoral Commission and the ICO for months, including about Better For The Country.
A full statement regarding the complex situation around the Trump and Brexit votes was sent to worldwide authorities in May, and also covers this topic.
The evidence was also gathered together in the book Alternative War, which was crowdfunded in the public interest and published in August.
Other evidence has also been sent to the Commission by journalists at the Guardian, including Carole Cadwalladr, and most recently by Open Democracy.
The information I have gathered and referred specifically ties Banks and Farage to Breitbart and former trump advisor and ex board member of Cambridge Analtyica, Steve Bannon, and places them and others in the centre-ground of the Trump-Russia inquiry.
I have also exposed financial arrangements in the Panama Papers leading to election activity in Lesotho and a data firm based in Mississippi.
UKIP are now also being investigated over payments made to them by Breitbart, amidst growing calls for an investigation into Russian interference in Brexit.
Banks has not been reachable for comment, however tweeted “Gosh, I’m terrified” on hearing of the inquiry.
“The information I have gathered and referred specifically ties Banks and
Farage to Breitbart and former trump advisor and ex board member of
Cambridge Analtyica, Steve Bannon, and places them and others in the
centre-ground of the Trump-Russia inquiry.”
Background sample from Alternative War, published August 2017:
“Leave.EU, the campaign of Arron Banks fronted by Nigel Farage, trading under the name Better For The Country Limited, was fined fifty thousand pounds by the ICO for sending five-hundred-thousand unsolicited text messages asking people to support Brexit between May and October 2015 – a year before the referendum took place. The ICO, though I specifically asked, made no comment on the official Vote Leave campaign’s use of American app provider UCampaign which, by their own admission, used phone book access via the application to send unsolicited messages to the relatives of hundreds of thousands of voters. The ICO database shows no registrations for UCampaign, the company behind it, Political Social Media LLC, Vote Leave, Vote Leave Limited, or Get Change Limited. Both of these activities would fall well within the definition of viral marketing set out in the guidance.”
“Watching these puzzle pieces fall into each other was awful, if I’m honest, and it was hard to know where to start. Nonetheless, I took a deep breath and wrote to SCL, asking if they or Cambridge Analytica had ever been investigated by the ICO for data breaches, or if they are currently under investigation. I wanted their official comment on the Electoral Commission investigation into their relationship with Leave.EU, whether they were aware of the sugging definition, and if they were continuing the practice of using surveys to develop databases. I also wanted to know whether they had bought data from, or sold data to, Leave.EU, Better For The Country Ltd, or Big Data Dolphins. As the growing scale of the international data wash was starting to be exposed, the question started to shift. I wasn’t just sat asking what the hell happened anymore, I was asking who else was involved. But I didn’t get that answer straight away. Something unexpected happened instead.”
“When I started looking behind Leave.EU, the mirroring of SCL’s registration became even clearer. Better For The Country Limited registered with the ICO in August 2015 at the same address as Leave.EU, but this company included transfers to countries and territories throughout the world. The company connections were becoming more obscure but, finally, provided the more direct connections which I had been missing. While Leave.EU had not yet posted accounts, Better For The Country Limited last filed showing over one million pounds in shareholder funds. The company was registered with Companies House in May 2015, listing its nature as “other information services.” The directorships when I looked, in April and May 2017, showed the prominent Leave.EU figure Andrew Wigmore, Maria Ming, Alison Marshall, Elizabeth Bilney, the well-known UKIP donor Arron Banks, Ranja Abbot, and Dawn Williams. Bilney I found interesting, also being listed as a director at Banks’ flagship alternative media outlet Westmonster, and a new venture ‘Big Data Dolphins’ alongside Alison Marshall.”
“Big Data Dolphins was an unknown quantity having only been registered with Companies House in December 2016, giving its nature as “business and domestic software development” and “data processing, hosting and related activities.” The ICO registration, I saw, was a mirror of SCL’s but was different in that it was shown as having data transfers restricted to the EEA. The shareholders also link to Rock Services, Banks’ insurance company, though the majority share (91%) shows as being owned by Deep DD Limited which returns no trace on any company searches I’ve managed to do.”
“Also registered at Lysander House, a development in Bristol and the home of most of Banks’ businesses, Bilney was listed as an active director of Chartwell Political Limited, a company set up in June 2014 to carry out market research and public opinion polling. The company then showed as owing nearly three hundred and forty thousand pounds. The second director, Bridget Rowe, was listed on the company website underneath a picture of the back of Banks talking to journalists and alongside her was the name James Pryor. Rowe worked in print news, including alongside Rupert Murdoch, and previously worked as the director of communications for UKIP. Pryor had worked on elections all over the world, for the Conservatives at Downing Street, and as a campaign director for UKIP. They claimed to be uniquely able to: “Identify the range of threats that can emerge to destabilise political and election campaigns,””
““Bilney was, of course, also a director of Westmonster, the ‘Breitbart’ styled news agency launched by Arron Banks – which was incorporated in January 2017 and lists a major shareholder as Better For The Country Limited. The second major shareholder and director is Michael Heaver, previously communications officer for MEP Nigel Farage and former chair of UKIP’s youth arm, Young Independence.””
“In 2014, Heaver was actively writing for Breitbart, the right-wing alternative news outlet then run by Steven Bannon and funded by Robert Mercer. Bannon launched the site in the UK at that time specifically to further his “cultural war” and influence the 2015 general election.”