Leave.EU, Arron Banks and new questions about referendum funding

The Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating Leave.EU and its donor Arron Banks over possible breaches of the Data Protection Act.

The ICO has issued “information notices” against both Leave.EU – the referendum campaign headed by Nigel Farage – and its director, Banks. The notices – requiring organisations to provide the ICO with specified information within a certain time period – were issued in the same week as the ICO conducted raids last month on ’s offices. The notices are both part of Operation Cederburg – the commissioner’s year-long investigation into the use of data in the EU referendum. Failure to comply is a criminal offence.

Banks – who was by far the biggest funder of Brexit, providing £8.4m in donations and loans – confirmed on Friday that both he personally and Leave.EU had received “information notices”. In an email on Friday, Banks said they were “responding to it’” He said the ICO’s action was not an “investigation” but “an information request”.

In a separate development, the Observer has obtained an invoice that Cambridge Analytica issued on 14 December 2015 for £41,500 for work it undertook on behalf of Ukip. The invoice says the payment is for “analysis of Ukip membership and survey data and creative product development”, and it is issued on behalf of Cambridge Analytica LLC, the American entity, from its office in Alexandria, Virginia. This is the first documentary evidence that Cambridge Analytica did conduct analytics work on behalf of one of the Leave campaigns in the period before the referendum.

Banks confirmed to the Observer that he was also sent the invoice at that time too. He said he subsequently made a donation for the amount to cover the invoice to Ukip. A spokesman for Ukip, speaking to the Guardian last month, denied any payment for the work was made but he confirmed Banks had in fact made the donation after “new information had come to light”. He said that the party decided not to pass on the money to Cambridge Analytica.

Banks has long denied that Cambridge Analytica did any work for Leave.EU, as has Cambridge Analytica. The question is still the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Electoral Commission. In a written submission to the select committee for the department for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) last month, Banks said he had met Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica but that he had declined to take him up on his proposal. Cambridge Analytica said on Saturday that it “did some preliminary analysis as part of a proposal to work with Ukip, but no contract was agreed, payment was not made to CA, and the preliminary work was not delivered to Ukip.”

Brittany Kaiser, a former Cambridge Analytica director, who appeared on a panel at Leave.EU’s launch event, came forward to the Guardian last month and raised further questions about these claims. She said the company had completed around £40,000 worth of work for Ukip, using Ukip data, but agreed that the company had not been paid. She is expected to talk about this on Tuesday when she will testify to parliament as part of the DCMS committee into fake news.

 

 

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