Jury Team: a question of transparency

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I’m not obsessed with Jury Team, really I’m not. It’s just that they keep doing these … things … to provoke me.

At the time of writing, the party which claims to be more representative than the other parties on the basis that 100% of the electorate selects their candidates doesn’t have a single candidate with more than 40 votes. The party that claims to be seeking to do in the UK what Obama did in the US doesn’t seem to even have the basics right. And for a party which claims to represent “real transparency,” they seem to be anything but.

I’ve already pointed out how the laws regarding “regulated donees” appear to apply to Jury Team prospective candidates, yet when I asked them whether they are working on this basis or not, I got an odd couple of emails from “Morus of London,” who on prodding admitted his real name was “Greg” (no last name – apparently he is quite well known in politicalbetting.com circles), who explained that it was complicated and would be far quicker to talk rather than explain it all in an email. I have to admit that I’ve taken a few days to reply to his second email, but I have now done so and asked him simply to answer the following two questions:

1) Do the PPERA rules on “regulated donees” cover your prospective candidate in your view (I note that the law explicitly applies to “members” and you include “membership” as part of your £10 administration fee)? YES / NO
2) Are you appraising your prospective candidates of what you understand the legal situation to be? YES / NO

But this isn’t the only example of Jury Team being less than transparent. For all their attacks on sleaze, they explicitly state they welcome anonymous donations of £199 or less on their website. To quote:

To donate under £200 you don’t need to provide your details but we would love to know who you are so we can thank you. Please fill in your details below if you wish, or if you would prefer to remain anonymous please just click on the PayPal link and you will be taken through the form.

This is technically legal (the PPERA has a “de minimus” level under which donations are not regulated), although neither Labour, the Conservatives nor the Lib Dems accept anonymous small donations via their respective websites. There is also a question here about enforcement; what is to stop someone from making 100 £199 seperate donations to Jury Team? And finally, there is a question of honesty. If they are accepting payments via PayPal, then they will know your email address so it ain’t anonymous. This of course means that technically they could see if someone were to make multiple donations via the same PayPal account. So, either they are going to enforce the law and break their promise to respect anonymity, or they will respect anonymity and potentiall break the law. Once again, they are failing to make their position clear.

I will give them one thing though. I genuinely welcome their pledge not to accept donations of more than £50,000. As I have argued previously, Nick Clegg should have got the party to practice what it preaches ages ago. With the prospect of a legal cap now disappearing over the horizon, it is time to claim the moral high ground.

UPDATE: Morus/Greg Callus has now got back to me and confirmed “yes” and “yes” to my above questions. Progress at last, but it shouldn’t have taken so many email exchanges.

3 thoughts on “Jury Team: a question of transparency

  1. James,

    Firstly, I should say thanks for interrogating the Jury Team ideas – it’s actually genuinely welcomed.

    As I said in my email, there’s a quite subtle set of legal questions around the regulated donees issue, which is why I wanted to talk you through what we were doing, to make everything clear. That said, as soon as I received your 2 questions this morning, I gave the Yes/Yes answer.

    I’m sorry if you felt we weren’t quick enough – I gave my mobile number earlier this week to try and expedite the process, and answered emails as soon as I received them (I”ve been away this weekend). The delay was, as you say, on your side. I don’t think we’re guilty of a deliberate lack of transparency, but I’m happy to be held to account if it appears that way.

    I’m not sure I agree with the donations thing – are you saying that we should report all donees, irrespective of amount, or change the thresholds set by law? I’m not averse to the idea if so. The pledge to retain anonymity is that we won’t report the name of a donor below certain thresholds – obviously if someone breaches the spirit or letter of the law (multiple donations adding up to excess of threshold), then we would explain that we must either report their name (breaching by consent the promise of anonymity), or return the donations if they did not agree. This seems obvious to me, but maybe we should make it more so?

    The donations page simply sets out the law – you don’t have to declare your name etc if under £200. There is no reason that the PayPal email address is linked to the person making the donation, so I don’t think we’re being disingenuous in saying that small donations are (for the purposes of reporting) anonymous. I think it would be equally a breach of trust and honesty to say that we were compelled to collect personal details with a small donation, if that isn’t actuallly the case.

    Obviously, if a number of donations come in from the same PayPal account, and they amount to over £200, we will declare them – there’s no attempt to avoid either the letter or the spirit of the law, simply that our donations page is clear (in a way you think we should be about the regulated donees issue) as to what the law actually demands, rather than using the page for personal data harvesting.

    I relish having these views pointed out – you’ve been more attentive than most about testing what we are doing, and I welcome it. All I would say is that where we are at variance with what you would characterise as best practice, it is perhaps uncharitable to assume that this is deliberate avoidance of transparency.

    I think we’ve tried to be as open and honest about the project as possible – as a result of critiques such as yours, perhaps we can do better, but please believe that any imperfections are less by design than circumstance.

    Any feedback wanted – you have my personal email address and mobile number, and I am more than happy to meet to address your future questions, convenience permitting.

    Best regards

    Morus

  2. My point is that in law there is no ‘anonymous’ threshold – merely a threshold below which amounts don’t get reported. It is bad practice to talk about anonymity as it is potentially misleading and encourages a culture of anonymous giving.

    As I wrote above, neither Labour, the Tories nor the Lib Dems refer to anonymity on their donations pages. If they did, wouldn’t you be the first to accuse them of sleaze?

  3. @Morus I think you may be confusing the idea of anonymous donations with whether or not a donation has to be reported to the Electoral Commission and published on the register of donations. You are absolutely right that not all donations have to be reported to the Electoral Commission but this does not mean they can be anonymous. Using terms like anonymous donations gives the impression that you are trying to avoid funding transparency even if this is not the case. You may find, as political parties have done, that the perception of sleaze, even where it is mistaken, is as damaging as the reality.

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