Thursday, February 24, 2011

#Yes2AV totally busted?

Following on from the last post about the AV campaigns,Ed Howker has an impressive tale over at the Spectator about how the Yes2AV campaign has a rather amazing financial conflict of interest in its funding stream.

Rarely do I cut and paste large sections of articles, but what has been written should be read more widely.
What I [Ed Howker] found reveals a catalogue of undeclared donations, hidden money trails and one massive conflict of interest of such comical proportions that even Berlusconi would blush. It shows, in effect, that the largest single donor to the 'Yes' campaign is Britain's no1 vendor of ballot papers and vote counting services – a massively profitable outfit whose commercial interest in a new, complicated Westminster voting system is clear.

Last week, the Electoral Reform Society – the organisation really in charge of the referendum campaign – admitted to making a donation of £1.05 million to it, but not only do internal Society documents show that they have really donated much more, they’ve also been less than open about the real source of their funding.

First, let’s examine the “£1.05 million” claim. Well, this turns out to be an admission of only one fraction of the Society’s involvement. The internal documents show their assistance is two pronged – consisting not just of the cash donation they have admitted to, but also an entirely separate gift of staff and resources that has not been publicly declared. This support, which extends to the secondment of more than a dozen paid staff, means that well over half the resources used to fund the Yes campaign are being directed by the Electoral Reform Society.

Now let’s turn to the “£1 million” donation. The Society turns out to be the majority shareholder in Britain’s leading and highly profitable supplier of election services, and its dividends are funding the campaign. The business, which is called Electoral Reform Services Ltd, turns over £21m. As the piece says:

"There is almost no aspect of our democracy ERSL’s services do not touch – their stationary and postal voting packs, poll cards and ballot papers are used in parliamentary, European and local elections. They have already been awarded to contract to administer the 2012 Mayoral election using electronic counting machines. So, should Britain decide to hold more complex elections as with the Alternative Voting system, ERSL could be well-placed to receive the contracts."

So the company in charge of administering the referendum on AV is itself funding one side of the campaign. As the internal documents from the Society state, “it is possible that ERSL will profit as a result of a YES vote (increased business opportunities).” And if ERSL profits then so will the Electoral Reform Society, which is currently straining its resources to persuade Britain to vote Yes. This is a financial conflict of interest of the very gravest kind.
Total ownership. Totally busted?

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