Published on 16 Jul 2010 Sections ,

Zac Goldsmith mounts defence over expense claims

Zac Goldsmith has appeared on Channel 4 News to respond to questions raised about his campaign costs during the general election. The Conservative MP claimed the allegations were “a nonsense”.

Goldsmith faces questions over his electoral spending following a joint Channel 4 News and Bureau of Investigative Journalism investigation.

But speaking to Jon Snow, the new MP for Richmond began by insisting he had not had the chance to respond to the allegations when the report was first aired on Thursday evening.

He said: “I contacted Channel 4 and said I would like to come and do a live interview to address these issues on air, head-to-head.

“You clearly tried to create the impression I was unwilling to do so.”

Channel 4 News first requested an interview with Mr Goldsmith one week ago.

Electoral law states that candidates must abide by a spending limit in the run-up to an election, and submit a file containing a detailed declaration of spending with their returning officer.

Every decision we took was approved by election experts in central office, Conservative Party. Zac Goldsmith MP

The Electoral Commission ruled that candidates in the Richmond Park constituency could spend a maximum of £11,003 on campaign materials in the 23 days to polling day.

Goldsmith’s declaration, signed on 7 June, states that he came £220 below this with a campaign total of £10,783.

However, when Channel 4 News and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism looked at his receipts in detail, there were some puzzling items – involving the cost of jackets, signs and leaflets.

Like most candidates, Goldsmith used hundreds of signs and boards to raise his profile. The invoices show that the Goldsmith campaign spent some £2,800 for 600 signs bearing his name and photo.

We are confident that the election expenses in question comply to the spirit and letter of election law. Conservative Party spokesman

But when it came to declaring how much the campaign spent on these signs during the key campaigning period, the amount is reduced by 90 per cent – to just £262. This reduction helped to keep him under his legal spending limit.

It appears he managed to do this by claiming half these costs were for another campaign.

Mr Goldsmith told Channel 4 News: “Before having the posters designed, which were centrally designed, we checked – we didn’t want to have to do two posters – local election and national election because people aren’t going to have two posters in their garden.

“It says my name, my picture and Vote Conservative. This is absolutulely standard across the country.”

“Every decision we took was approved by election experts in central office, Conservative Party.”

The former non-dom won his seat after a closely-fought contest, with Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer in May.

Political analyst Greg Callus told Channel 4 News election expenses could be the next wave of the expenses scandal. 

"There is barely a campaign in the country where, I imagine, they have not been at least a little bit creative about this kind of thing, merging local campaign costs or how materials are being used. I'd be very surprised if they weren't," he said.

"If there is to be a new wave of expenses that the public will be shocked by, it will be spending in this period, in the run-up to elections.

"Or, could it be so big that no one will want to go into it? The question is, is there something rotten in the way our politicians have been elected?

"If the Electoral Commission takes these allegations seriously, and others in future, and there are say 10 or 15 by-elections as a result, this is not just about whether MPs are morally upstanding.

"Its about their legitimacy as MPs and the legislation they have passed that comes into question."

In a statement to Channel 4 News Zac Goldsmith’s election agent cautioned against reporting inaccurate figures and making false assumptions. He said: “We were scrupulous in ensuring that all our election expenses complied with both the letter and the spirit of Electoral Commission rules.”

The Electoral Commision said it had received a complaint and would follow its usual procedure of carrying out an initial investigation.

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “We are confident that the election expenses in question comply to the spirit and letter of election law.”

The questions over Goldsmith’s expenses come after Prime Minister David Campaign made a promise to clean up politics one of the key arguments of his campaign in the general election.Speaking on Sky News later last night, Goldsmith said: “The returns my agent submitted to the Electoral Commission are scrupulous. Every single detail of them is correct.

“We’ve used the same formula that every candidate and every MP throughout this country – including my rival in Richmond – exactly the same formula and exactly the same results as the formula I used.

“These are 100 per cent standard returns.”

We refute any suggestion that Zac Goldsmith was targeted simply because he is a high profile figure. The questions we have raised relating to his expenses are entirely legitimate. Channel 4 News spokesman

He also suggested he had been targeted because he was a “high profile” figure, and said he believed the investigation was dishonest, misleading and unethical. Goldsmith has also written a blog describing the report as a “tabloid job”.

“The report itself is nonsense, on every level,” he wrote. “The election returns we submitted are 100 per cent clear. We followed the letter and spirit of the law, and if the Electoral Commission looks into it all, they will find nothing out of order.

“The channel has engaged in shoddy and disreputable journalism. I will answer it in detail tomorrow evening, but first I am hoping to be able to tackle Jon Snow tomorrow, if he agrees.”

A Channel 4 News spokesman said: “We refute any suggestion that Zac Goldsmith was targeted simply because he is a high profile figure. The questions we have raised relating to his expenses are entirely legitimate. The issues we found regarding Mr Goldsmith’s campaign expenses are materially different and of a different scale to those found in other returns we looked at.

“We informed Mr Goldsmith of our report last week and he was given ample opportunity to respond on the record to these questions.

“Channel 4 News stands fully behind its report which was rigorously researched. The investigation into campaign spending continues.”

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