George Galloway's Respect party broke electoral law by leaving a trail of debts equivalent to more than £2,000 for each candidate it fielded in last year's general election.
The law says political parties have to settle election bills within 42 days, as a precaution against running up debts they cannot pay. But six months after the election, Respect still owed £52,241, about one sixth of the total amount - £320,716 - that it spent on the election. Another offender was the British National Party, which failed to settle £10,000 worth of bills in time.
Election accounts for all the smaller parties were made public yesterday by the Electoral Commission. Respect's accounts reveal that Greenwich Council, in south-east London, threatened to call in a debt collection agency over an unpaid fee of £24 for the hire of a community hall and an office supplies company refused to continue dealing with Respect until it settled a bill for £564.99. The party also had a warning from BT about an unpaid phone bill. Another supplier sent an invoice with a handwritten plea: "Ron could do with a cheque!"
A note by the auditors said: "We would draw to the Treasurer's attention breaches of Section 77(2) of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act. The liability for expenditure incurred by the party under this section must be met not later than 42 days after the end of the relevant campaign period."
The BNP was also rebuked by auditors for failing to keep its accounts in order during the elections for the European Parliament, and for failing to pay £10,000 worth of bills in time - though part of the problem was said to be a sudden increase in membership.
The report by the auditors, Silver & Co, said: "In our opinion, the summary of campaign expenditure does not fairly present in all material respects the campaign expenditure incurred by or on behalf of the party between 11 February 2004 and 5 May 2005 in respect of its European Parliament election campaign.
"The party has seen a significant increase in membership and activity that has placed strains upon the record-keeping. Accordingly, therefore, in line with similar-sized organisations, we have had to rely upon assurances and explanations given us by officers of the party."
The Electoral Commission said yesterday that it was having talks with several of the smaller parties, including Respect and the BNP, over how they can improve their bookkeeping.
Respect outspent all the other minor parties except for the UK Independence Party, which fielded 496 candidates - nearly 20 times as many as Respect - at a cost of £648,397.
The Green Party spent £182,555 among 202 candidates, and the BNP spent £112,068 on 118 candidates. The cheapest campaign of the general election was that of the Alliance for Green Socialism, which ran five candidates for just £69.
Poll expense claims
* The Green Party spent £860 on a caricature bust of Tony Blair, including the cost of transporting it to London and Brighton.
* The Scottish National Party spent £228.11 on 50 inflatable parrots, and £180 on haggis treats for an election event.
* The UK Independence Party spent £484.55 on books, including two copies of Germany's Four Reichs by Harry Beckhough and Vernon Coleman's Saving England, The Case For Independence. The party also bought 600 copies of a pamphlet called "101 Reasons For Leaving The EU" at 50p each.
* UKIP also spent £11,914.77 on political beer mats and £4,752.88 on four 'promo' bikes.
* The BNP spent £50 each for cartoons called 'Record Shop' and 'Blair at Dover' to use on their literature.
* The Ulster Unionist Party spent £144 on a cylinder of helium and £527.58 on sticks of rock. It also paid £176.25 "for use of terrorist picture on election poster, as requested".
* The accounts of the Democratic Unionist Party include a scone ordered at the Edenmore Golf & Country Club, Belfast, which cost £1.96 plus 34p VAT.
* Sinn Fein kept down the cost of its broadcasts and websites by commissioning the work in Dublin. It avoided VAT because the products were for 'export'. The bills were paid in euros.Reuse content