Electoral Commission Rules on Illegal RESPECT Donation

You’ll remember the story about the cheque from the Dubai businessman to RESPECT, that was returned by the party because it breached electoral law, but was then diverted to the Organising for Fighting Unions campaign?

Galloway claims that a disagreement with Rees over the lawfulness of the decision was one of the reasons for the SWP-Gallowjamaati split.

Well, now the Electoral Commission has ruled:

A CAMPAIGN set up to help trade union rights and which accepted a foreign donation of £5,000 was in fact part of MP George Galloway’s Respect party, the Electoral Commission has suggested.

If the commission’s preliminary findings are later confirmed, it could mean that Respect bosses accepted an illegal donation.

The commission’s investigator, John Franks, said evidence he had considered indicated that OFFU, Organising for Fighting Unions campaign, “is in fact part of Respect.”

But that finding is being challenged by Respect boss John Rees, who was responsible for accepting the cheque from Dubai last year.

The issue is said to be central to the current split within the Respect party.

Mr Galloway, MP for Bethnal Green & Bow, called in election watchdogs late last year, weeks after claiming to have been made aware that Mr Rees had banked a $10,000 cheque from a Dubai businessman.

The donor originally wanted to give the money directly to Respect, but Mr Galloway refused, fearing it would be illegal.

Mr Rees wrote back to the businessman suggesting as an alternative cause, OFFU, which at the time was saddled with around £5,000 debts from a conference held in Shoreditch Town Hall in 2005. He believed OFFU was an independent organisation.

But the Electoral Commission’s Mr Franks, in a letter sent to Respect officials on Monday (Feb 18), said he found it “difficult to reconcile this evidence with the claim that OFFU is an independent organisation, entirely separate from Respect”… since OFFU shared the same office as Respect, the majority of its committee members were from Respect, while Respect described OFFU as “a Respect initiative,” that “most expenses” incurred by OFFU “were met by Respect” and that OFFU was “established” at the annual Respect conference.

He added: “On the contrary. The evidence would seem to indicate that OFFU is in fact part of Respect, and that is my provisional view.”

Even if the law considered OFFU to be a mere “members’ association” only connected to rather than part of Respect, Mr Franks concluded, it would still be governed by the same restrictions on accepting foreign donations as registered parties.

A poster at Socialist Unity pours further cold water on Rees’ claim that OFFU was separate from RESPECT, noting that:

Respect took all the credit card bookings for the conference into its bank account. Respect booked and paid for the deposit for the conference.
Respect paid for the website. Respect’s full time staff did OFFU work at the Respect office.
I suspect that the comparison with the gherkin building may not hold water, given how small the Respect office is, how few the number of people worker there was and how small the number of desks is.
Respect also paid printers’ bills for OFFU. Strangely, even though the invoices were entered on Respect’s book-keeping system, the invoices were shredded and Respect’s books now show big gaps (several people witnessed documents being shredded as the split developed).
OFFU’s financial statement shows money paid by OFFU to Respect, and by Respect to OFFU. It also shows money owed to OFFU by Respect, and it shows Respect being billed by the SWP for leaflets, which were for OFFU.

The donation should not have been accepted. Not just because it’s against the rules – it’s politically a really shit thing to do.
It shows really terrible politics to accept the donation and pretend that OFFU and Respect were separate organisations.

In other news, tim notes that there may be further headaches in store for the SWP, if they win their custody battle over the name RESPECT:

It appears that the party owes nearly £37,000 in unpaid loans which will presumably follow the faction that gets the name.

The allegiance of the largest lender is firmly with the Galloway faction.
Clive Searle, who is owed £15,461 organized this triumphant meeting for Galloway on Tuesday. 54 people turned up, the heating broke down, George was delayed by a TV interview and had to leave early for another TV interview.

Mr Searle is yet to make clear whether he wants his money back.