NSW Liberals are embroiled in another dispute with the state electoral commission over political donations with the party facing the prospect of having to pay back close to $300,000.
Two Liberal candidates spent more than $100,000 each funding their own campaigns at the 2015 state election.
Glenn Brookes spent $130,000 to fund his campaign to win the seat of East Hills for the Liberals.
Former Auburn mayor Ronney Oueik spent $150,000 of his own money in a failed attempt to beat Opposition Leader Luke Foley in the seat of Auburn.
Election funding laws state that a candidate may fund their own campaign, but the payments must be processed through an official campaign account operated by a separate “official agent” if more than $1000 is spent.
It is “unlawful” for an elected MP to make payments towards their re-election unless they are from the campaign account.
Mr Brookes told Fairfax Media last year that he paid for more than $130,000 worth of advertising, posters, balloons, water bottles and T-shirts from his personal bank account.
However, the Liberal Party insisted that all campaign funds “were put through a central campaign account under the control of the Party Agent [Simon McInnes], with separate accounting for every candidate”.
It is understood the same applied to Mr Oueik.
But the electoral commission has written to the NSW Liberal Party stating that because the funds were paid into its account they are treated as political donations.
This meant that the payments easily exceeded the legal cap of $2000 for candidates and $5000 for parties.
The Liberal Party disputes the commission’s decision. The matter was discussed during a meeting of its state executive on Thursday night, where it was resolved to pursue legal action.
Mr Brookes was referred to the electoral commission by Labor MLC Lynda Voltz.
Last year the party was forced to forgo more than $600,000 in public funding after political donations equal to that amount were deemed by the electoral commission to have been unlawful following an investigation into its fundraising before the 2011 election.
The decision followed the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s findings in Operation Spicer, its investigation of Liberal Party funding before the election that swept the Coalition to power in NSW.
The commission has since revealed that disgraced former Liberal MP Tim Owen has repaid $50,000 following an investigation by the NSW electoral commission.
Another disgraced former Liberal MP, Andrew Cornwell, was forced to repay $10,000 cash he received from property developer Jeff McCloy during the 2011 campaign.
Property developers have been prohibited from donating to NSW election campaigns since the end of 2010.
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