Russian election meddling to be targeted in crackdown on campaign spending

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Chloe Smith - Clara Molden for The Telegraph
Chloe Smith - Clara Molden for The Telegraph

The Government will today announce a crackdown on Russian and foreign meddling in UK elections by tightening the rules on campaign spending.

Chloe Smith, the constitution minister, will set out plans to prevent spending by sources that have no "genuine and legitimate interest" in British democracy during regulated campaigning periods.

Speaking at an event organised by the Policy Exchange think tank, Ms Smith will announce changes which will effectively ban overseas campaigners who are ineligible to vote or stand in UK elections from influencing them.

While overseas donations to political parties are already tightly policed, it is currently possible for people overseas to spend money campaigning in England during an election campaign up to £20,000 - the threshold for registering as a third-party campaigner with the Electoral Commission.

It means that foreign individuals are currently able to spend thousands of pounds below this limit on campaigning, such as funding a "host of political adverts online", a Whitehall source said.

However, under changes due to be announced today, ministers will introduce new restrictions which will essentially prohibit this from happening.

Meanwhile, the Government will also tighten the rules for UK campaigners by introducing a new threshold above which third-parties, such as individuals or organisations, must register with the Electoral Commission.

The changes will see the threshold for registration in England halve from £20,000 to £10,000, in line with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with those registered subject to strict controls on spending and donations.

Ms Smith will also announce that the Government is strengthening its "digital imprints" policy, so that all paid-for digital political advertising - including outside of elections - will require an explainer explaining who funded it.

It comes amid growing concern over the "evolving threat" posed by hostile states such as Russia and China, or proxies acting on their behalf, in attempting to influence the outcome of elections in the UK and other western democracies.

Ms Smith will say that while the UK’s enemies "favour control, corruption and conformity", the Government will seek to strengthen the electoral system in order to "keep the UK’s democracy modern, secure, transparent and fair".

"A system of governing and living that has people’s freedom and choices at its heart and – let’s not forget – a system that can remove the government without resorting to a civil war or coup d’etat, are seen by autocratic regimes as an existential threat", she will go on to say.

"By providing these clear rules and a shared understanding of those rules... we will ensure that voters can make an informed choice and benefit from a level playing field."

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