Regulation of candidates’ campaign expenditure: the long and the short of it…

There are two regulated periods for candidates contesting the UK Parliamentary general election, known as the long campaign and the short campaign. Separate spending limits apply in each of these periods.

The long campaign period (technically the period during which the pre-candidacy election expenses are regulated) began on 19 December 2014 and ends on the day before a person officially becomes a candidate.

The short campaign period (the period when the candidates’ election expenses are regulated during the election campaign) begins on the day a person officially becomes a candidate (generally this will be at the dissolution of Parliament on 30 March 2015) and ends on polling day, 7 May 2015.

When does a candidate officially become a candidate?

The earliest this can be is the day that Parliament is dissolved, for the general election on 7 May 2015 this will be 30 March 2015. If a candidate’s intention to stand for election has not been announced by the dissolution of Parliament they will officially become a candidate when they announce they are a candidate or when they are nominated.

The Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 introduced a new pre-candidacy expenditure limit which has applied to general election candidates since January 2010. The limit is additional to the election expense limits which apply to candidates during the general election campaign (from dissolution to polling day) and to the limits on national party spending.

How much can they spend?

In both the long and short campaigns, the spending limit is calculated by adding together a base amount and a variable top up that takes into account the number of registered electors in the constituency the candidate is contesting. Therefore the expenditure limit for each candidate is different. The limits were increased last year by the Representation of the People (Variation of Limits of Candidates’ Election Expenses) Order 2014.

The Electoral Commission sets out the spending limits in its Guidance for candidates and agents: Part 3 of 6 – Spending and donations.

During the long campaign from 19 December 2014 to dissolution on 30 March 2015 the candidate’s expenditure limit is £30,700 plus either

  • 9p per elector in county constituencies (predominantly rural)
  • 6p per elector for borough constituencies (predominantly urban)

And for the short campaign the limit is £8,700 plus either

  • 9p per elector in county constituencies
  • 6p per elector for borough constituencies

How much did candidates spend in 2010?

There was an expenditure limit for candidates during the long campaign period (from 1 January 2010 until the dissolution of Parliament on 12 April 2010) of £25,000 plus either 7p per elector for county constituencies or 5p per elector in borough constituencies.

The total limit per candidate for the long campaign in 2010 was therefore around £30,000.

The expenditure limit for the short campaign (from dissolution until polling day) was £7,150 plus either 7p per elector for county constituencies, or 5p per elector in borough constituencies

The total limit per candidate for the short campaign in 2010 was therefore around £10,000 to £12,000.

A report by the Commission published in 2011 on campaign spending at the 2010 general election found that during the long campaign period candidates reported a total of £11.2 million in expenditure. For the short campaign (the period between the dissolution of Parliament and polling day) candidates reported expenditure totalling £14.0 million. The majority of candidate expenditure was on information sent directly to electors; then on advertising, accommodation and staff costs. The Commission published the following table showing the average candidate spend as a percentage of the limit:

Campaign expenditure table JPEGThe Electoral Commission reported that 1% of candidates exceeded 90% of their long campaign limit and 10% exceeded 90% of their short campaign limit.