Crowdfunding the election: How to pay for snap campaign

Technology 30 Apr 2017
Crowdfunding the election: How to pay for snap campaign

Crowdfunding the election: How to pay for snap campaign By Ben Weisz Political reporter, BBC Sussex

Image copyright Crowdfunder
Image caption Independent candidates are turning to crowdfunding to fish for their £500 deposits

It is the favourite money-raising tool for crazy dreams and passion projects, as well as more worthy causes – and now would-be MPs are getting on board.

Crowdfunding – asking lots of people to each donate a small sum of money online – has been around since the 1990s, when fans of cult rock bands got together to fund new albums and tours for their idols.

The sites are now used by a vast array of different fundraisers.

Currently, £25 might buy you a lamb for an Indian village, de-worming tablets for 500 children, or a ukulele.

On former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's website, though, it'll buy 1000 A4 leaflets for his election campaign. He is not alone.

'I could almost cry'

Sites like GoFundMe, Crowdfunder and Crowdpac are brimming with politicians.

Crowdfunder says that in the week since the UK election was called, more than £200,000 was raised for political projects on its site.

It is expecting a 50% increase in the number of candidates using crowdfunding compared to 2015.

Conservatives in Wirral South, UKIP candidate Phil Eckersley and sitting Labour MPs like Peter Kyle, Maria Eagle and Rachel Reeves are among those turning to the technique.

There is nothing new about politicians raising money online – but the snap election has left them very little time to raise money through traditional methods, forcing them to get creative.

Image caption Supporters raised over £16,000 for Stephen Lloyd's campaign in a week

Lib Dem Stephen Lloyd, who is trying to regain the Eastbourne seat he lost to Conservative Caroline Ansell in 2015, said: "Where you have more time, I have fundraising dinners, I've gone to more quizzes and raffles and tombolas than you could shake a stick at.

"I instantly realised I didn't have time to do ten fundraisers over the next month."

The internet offered an answer. He set up a page on his website asking for donations, and shared it on Facebook.

Within a week, 551 donors had raised over £16,000. He says the response touched him.

"The truth of it is I could almost cry. When I've gone out and asked people, they've stepped up. It makes me feel like I'm part of something."

Businesswoman Gina Miller has crowdfunded over £300,000 to organise tactical voting and support up to 100 candidates opposed to a "hard Brexit". That's alongside numerous pages for SNP and Green candidates.

There's even someone calling themselves "Mr Fish Finger" raising money to stand against Lib Dem leader Tim Farron.

Anyone who wants to take part in the election has to stump up a £500 deposit.

More democratic?

Green MEP Molly Scott Cato is hoping to become an MP in Bristol West. Both she and her party have crowdfunding pages.

"Greens have been using this model for a number of years. To be honest, it wasn't that we preferred it – it was our only choice. We're not a very well-funded party and so candidates needed to get hold of enough funds to put up for the deposit."

Image caption Green candidate Molly Scott Cato says crowdfunding is a more democratic way of raising funds

But isn't it a bit odd to ask the public to fork out even more for the election? After all, June's poll will cost the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds to administer.

Molly Scott Cato disagrees. "It's a democratic approach. It allows everybody to support the party with their money, and later on support it with their vote as well, hopefully.

"It's a way of people making obvious their investment in the campaign and their commitment to a Green candidate."

Who can donate?

Up and down the country, politicians are turning to you, the public, for help with their campaigning costs. But they need to be careful.

The Electoral Commission regulates election spending and political donations. It says candidates must collect enough information from donors to be able to check they are allowed to accept their cash.

In a statement, the elections watchdog said: "When crowdfunding, campaigners must only accept donations over a certain value from a permissible source.

"For candidates that means donations exceeding £50, for political parties and non-party campaigners it is £500.

"Candidates, parties and non-party campaigners can only accept donations from permissible, mainly UK sources.

"They must therefore collect information from every donor to ensure that they can properly check that each donation is from a permissible source. If a donation is not from a permissible source, it must be returned within 30 days."

So while it's an effective way of raising cash quickly, if you're crowdfunding, make sure you're keeping tabs on who's donating.

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