Goldsmith embroiled in breach of rules

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Zac Goldsmith, the multi-millionaire environmentalist, has become embroiled in a breach of electoral rules after using part of his fortune to bankroll his bid to become a Conservative MP.

Mr Goldsmith spent £90,000 last year on his campaign for the Richmond Park seat, but the Conservative party has said that a small part of the money it received from its candidate was not permissible under Electoral Commission rules.

Conservative officials admit that Mr Goldsmith, 33, was not on the electoral roll when he gave £7,000 to his local party, a breach of the rules that would normally lead to the money being forfeited.

They say there was an “innocent mistake” which arose in a short delay in Mr Goldsmith’s name being entered on the Richmond electoral roll after moving from his former home in Kensington and Chelsea.

The Electoral Commission on Friday confirmed it was in correspondence with the Conservative party on the issue and that donations to political parties were “not permissible” if a donor was not on the electoral roll.

Although the breach appears technical in nature and Mr Goldsmith is unlikely to miss the £7,000 – were it to be forfeited – the case has highlighted the extent to which he is using his own fortune to fund his fight to enter parliament.

He is estimated to have inherited up to £300m in 1997 from the estate of his late father, Sir James Goldsmith, who built up his wealth through financial activities and in other areas such as mining and forestry.

Mr Goldsmith, a former editor of The Ecologist magazine, is hoping to overturn a 3,700 Liberal Democrat majority in the wealthy seat in south-west London, currently held by Susan Kramer.

Martin Linton, Labour MP for Battersea, said: “The justice secretary Jack Straw has already announced that he will bring forward a new party funding bill in the autumn to close the loophole that allows candidates to spend unlimited amounts of money before the election has been called.”

Local Conservative association officials say the mistake over the “very small proportion of the submission” was “an administrative error” and that most of the money was used for offices and staff rather than publicity material.

“As the local candidate in Richmond, Zac Goldsmith set up his own office in the town centre, separate to the association office,” a Tory spokesman said.

“He covers the costs of running this office and employs two members of staff to help him in his work dealing with the issues that matter to the people of Richmond.”

Mr Goldsmith, selected to fight Richmond Park in March 2007, was an influential figure in David Cameron’s attempt to make the Conservatives an environmental force. He helped to produce a “quality of life” policy paper for the party last year.

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