Electoral Commission was criticised over ‘Wendygate’ handling

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A newspaper report today alleges that the Electoral Commission was criticised this Spring by the UK’s Information Commissioner over its handling of the Wendy Alexander illegal donations scandal.

The revelation follows a decision by an English High Court judge that a court hearing be held in order to decide whether the full facts of the ‘Wendygate’ scandal should be made public.


A newspaper report today alleges that the Electoral Commission was criticised this Spring by the UK’s Information Commissioner over its handling of the Wendy Alexander illegal donations scandal.

The revelation follows a decision by an English High Court judge that a court hearing be held in order to decide whether the full facts of the ‘Wendygate’ scandal should be made public.

Labour MSP Wendy Alexander resigned from her position as leader of the Labour group in June 2008 after it emerged she had accepted an illegal £950 campaign donation from Jersey-based businessman Paul Green.  The law strictly forbids the acceptance of political donations from people who do not reside in the UK.

However, despite the law being broken no prosecution followed.  The Electoral Commission refused to reveal its reasons for not pursuing the Labour MSP and also refused to divulge explanations given by Alexander and her team.
 
The High Court decision is a victory for writer and editor David Ferguson who has fought for over two years in an attempt to force the commission to reveal the information under Freedom of Information laws.

Ferguson originally appealed to the office of the UK Information Commissioner (ICO).  The ICO criticised the Electoral Commission on matters of procedure but crucially failed to uphold the appeal arguing that the testimony, freely given by Alexander and her team, was subject to data protection laws.  Mr Ferguson then took his case to the High Court.

The Electoral Commission is no stranger to controversy when it comes to donations involving Labour leaders that may have been worthy of further investigation or criminal charges.

Late 2002 saw the infamous ‘Red Rose’ case involving £7580 of undeclared donations from a Lanarkshire fundraising dinner being ploughed into Jack McConnell’s Motherwell and Wishaw Labour party.

A subsequent investigation by the commission found the local party had broken the law but the commission opted to take no action.

Similarly, the commission decided not to impose any criminal sanctions against Wendy Alexander after it concluded she had also broken the law by failing to declare the £950 donation from Mr Green.  That decision provoked cries of ‘whitewash’ against the commission.

The court hearing into the Electoral Commission’s decision to keep its ‘Wendygate’ workings secret will be held later this year.  It is expected that Wendy Alexander will be called in order to testify.

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