Candidates charged for failing to declare campaign donations

Thursday, 22 February 2018 at 2:57 am

The Local Government Inspectorate has commenced legal action against 15 candidates in the 2016 Victorian council elections after they failed to submit a campaign donation return.

Candidates are required to submit campaign donation returns when they receive any gifts or donations over $500, regardless of whether or not they are elected. Transparency of campaign funding or support is an essential element of the democratic process and failing to do so can carry heavy court imposed fines (60 penalty units or $9327.60 as at 1 July 2016).

The Inspectorate in partnership with the Victorian Electoral Commission provided comprehensive information and guidance for candidates in the 2016 general council elections about their responsibilities to declare campaign support in the form of funding. After the elections, 290 candidates were identified as failing to submit a campaign donation return by the 1 December 2016 deadline.

Working with candidates and councils, the Inspectorate conducted several rounds of follow up action, providing candidates an opportunity to comply voluntarily within reasonable timeframes. A large number of candidates were able to provide a reasonable explanation for failing to meet the legal requirements. 

The 159 candidates who lodged their return after the required date were issued with a formal warning. Fifteen candidates who failed to lodge any return are now facing prosecution in the Magistrates Court.

Chief Municipal Inspector David Wolf said: “A key factor in the integrity of local government is ensuring the transparency on who has financially supported candidates and councillors.

“While we don’t take prosecution action lightly, it is important that we pursue these matters and allow the courts to determine the seriousness of the offence.”

“Proposed changes to the Local Government Act will give the Inspectorate greater oversight of campaign donations, allowing more transparency for the community at the time of elections and swifter enforcement action for those who break the law.”

During the 2012 election period, 164 candidates failed to submit returns by the deadline. Prosecutions of 19 candidates following Inspectorate investigations resulted in a range of outcomes from convictions, fines, costs, good behaviour bonds and community work orders.