MP rejects TV questions over election expenses

IPSWICH: Tory MP Ben Gummer is being scrutinised by the Electoral Commission after an investigative news report raised questions about his campaign expenses.

The 32-year-old is among five MPs accused by Channel 4 of making “puzzling’’ claims during the General Election.

However, the Ipswich MP strongly denies any wrongdoing. He said: “I’m completely satisfied that my returns comply both with the letter and spirit of election law.”

Documents submitted by the five MPs show they did not overspend, but it is alleged they cast doubt over whether the current system is fair and properly policed.

The questions raised over Mr Gummer centre on T-shirts used by the Ipswich MP’s campaigners with the slogan “Vote for Ben in 2010”. It is claimed the invoices submitted by his team did not include charges for them.

According to the returns, Mr Gummer also paid his campaign manager, Sophie Stanbrook, �8,750 for the “long campaign” prior to the dissolution of parliament on April 12.

But she was paid nothing during the intense “short campaign” in the run-up to the May 6 General Election when spending limits were much tighter.

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If Mr Gummer had paid Ms Stanbrook, who runs a professional consultancy firm, at the same rate after parliament was dissolved, he would have been over his spending limit by as much as �1,800, according to Channel 4.

Electoral Commission guidance makes clear that unpaid voluntary work on a campaign is perfectly acceptable.

However, a spokesman for the independent body said it was looking into the expenses submitted by all five MPs.

She said: “We are making an initial assessment of the information at the moment. This will take five working days.”

A Conservative Party spokeswoman said: “Many staff did paid work until the dissolution of parliament and then agreed to work on a voluntary basis.

“To suggest an MP would frontload their staff’s salary is to interpret the parliamentary system unfairly.”

When asked about the T-shirts, the Conservative Party told Channel 4 News that items bought before November 25, 2009, do not count if used prior to the dissolution of Parliament.

Channel 4 scrutinised MPs’ expenses in a joint investigation with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Professor Keith Ewing, a political funding expert at King’s College, London, said it was very difficult to know if everything was being submitted properly by candidates in general.

He added: “There will be loopholes which people will identify, so it would come as no surprise if such activity was taking place.”

n Should the rules on campaign spending be tightened? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@evening

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