Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, was among dozens of MPs reprimanded by the donations watchdog yesterday for being late in registering £15,000 in payments for his leadership campaign.
The Electoral Commission's criticism comes as an embarrassment to Mr Clegg and his party, who have, until now, largely avoided the controversy over political donations that has hit David Cameron and Gordon Brown.
But, after Peter Hain's resignation from the Cabinet and the referral of his case to the police, a new "get tough" attitude has been shown by the Electoral Commission to those who break the rules.
Mr Hain failed to declare on time donations of £103,000 to fund his bid to win the deputy leadership of the Labour Party. Mr Clegg's case is not considered to be as serious but his inclusion in the group of MPs given a public censure by the commission gave a warning to others that, from now on, nobody is safe.
Liberal Democrat officials blamed party headquarters for missing the 30-day deadline with individual donations from supporters Michael Young (£5,000) and Charles Brand (£10,000).
Mr Clegg's spokesman said: "The donations were for the leadership election campaign. He was declared leader on 18 December and declared his donations to the party in good time. But the party headquarters submitted the returns six days late, on 8 January. We have asked them to check their procedures and we are confident that has happened."
Boris Johnson, the Conservative candidate for the Mayor of London, was also rapped over the knuckles for the late declaration of a £20,000 donation-in-kind from a West Midlands company, Buster Burke Limited, who paid for a full-time researcher on his parliamentary team. Alan Milburn, the former health secretary, was reprimanded for failing to declare on time £11,739 for an expenses-paid trip to Australia as the guest of the Australian Labor Party to observe the elections there in November last year.
The commission's chief executive, Peter Wardle, wrote to the MPs to warn them their late registrations were not acceptable.
He is seeking more powers for the commission, which can punish political parties, but has no powers to fine individual MPs. "We have written to all the MPs who made late declarations to say that it is unacceptable," a spokesman for the commission said yesterday. The former Conservative leader, Michael Howard, was also among those ticked off. He failed to meet the deadline with the declaration of a £7,000 trip funded by the Anglo-Arab Organisation to Darfur. The Welsh nationalist leader Elfyn Llwyd, who led the attacks on Mr Hain, the former Wales secretary, was caught out by failing to declare on time a trip worth £1,050 to Khartoum paid for by the Sudanese government to study conditions in Darfur.
The watchdog's crackdown also caught John Mann, a Labour MP who led a campaign against the use of Tory luncheon clubs by Tory MPs to conceal donations. Mr Mann was late in declaring a trip worth £1,369 to Syria and the Lebanon by the Anglo-Arab Organisation.
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