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Thu 5 December 2019
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Following yesterday’s revelations that the ‘Donate’ and ‘Registered Member’ functions on the Brexit Party site were open to abuse with multiple donations, Turlough Conway finds another huge anomaly in the party’s crowd funding claims.

EDITORIAL NOTE – new information from the Brexit Party overnight and follow up analytics (see Update below) make the traffic claims more credible but only increase the concerns about the PayPal donations.

On 21 April The Sun ran an interview with Nigel Farage during which he opened up his Brexit Party’s PayPal account to show the journalist “60,000 paid-up supporters in just nine days since its launch”.

The traffic shows that on the Launch day of the Brexit Party only 1,200 visitors – a fraction of the 16,000 £25 supporters Farage claimed had signed up that day

The Sun journalist also witnessed Farage logging “on to the PayPal account to let us see the range of people paying £25 to become registered supporters — with 15,811 joining on launch day alone.”

These figures have led Farage to declare a wave of popular support and funding for his new party. However, a review of the web traffic statistics for the site throws severe doubt on this claim.

More Donations and Subscribers than Visitors

Byline Times ran a traffic analysis on the Brexit Party’s website to determine what kind of overall traffic might be needed to produce that level of sign-up. The site analysis is based on a very large and diverse set of the most common browser extensions and plug-ins and is taken from one of the biggest traffic analysers in the world. (For fairness and comparison we have included the analysis from some of the other major parties). The results were very troubling indeed.

Conservative Party
Labour Party
Green Party
The Brexit Party

The traffic shows that on the launch day of the Brexit Party only received 1,200 visitors – a fraction of the 16,000 £25 supporters Farage claimed had signed up that day. For the nine following days he said 60,000 had signed up, the actual total of visitors looks like less than 10,000.

Even if every single visitor paid money to Brexit Party PayPal account this is only 10% of the total needed for launch day and 16% for the following nine days.

The only conclusion that can be reached is that only a small proportion of PayPal payments were made via the website.

What Is Going On?

How can we explain the anomaly between what the Sun journalist saw on the 12 April in the Brexit Party’s PayPal account and the reality of the site traffic?

The PayPal totals are from transactions from the website, either from the Donate buttons in the <£500 Donation page, or from Subscriptions via the “Become a Registered Supporter” PayPal Link.

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The main funding link is on the Brexit Party’s Facebook page and this links back to the website not to a PayPal payment page.

We can only conclude that the payments were made from another source on a PC or Server not advertising the link in the Public domain.

This seems to increase the possibility, explained yesterday, of a small number people uploading most of the PayPal payments from that period.

The Electoral Commission Respond

In response to our article yesterday, the Electoral Commission told Byline Times: “It is an offence to attempt to evade the controls on donations. This includes where it appears that a donor is attempting to evade the rules set out in PPERA by making a series of small donations.

If there is a suggestion that an impermissible donor has atomised a large donation into a number of smaller ones I don’t think a political party can turn a blind eye to that.

Jolyon Maugham, Good Law Project

“If there was evidence to suggest this was the case, then this could be a matter for the Electoral Commission, or the police, to consider. But it would depend on the specific circumstances of the case. The Commission has a published Enforcement Policy on our website which sets out the evidence threshold that needs to be met for us to consider looking into an allegation.”

However, Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project, which bought the successful judicial review against the Electoral Commission’s handling of Vote Leave’s overspending during the 2016 EU referendum, took a different view.

“My reading of the law is not as simple as the Electoral Commission’s,” he told Byline Times. “If there is a suggestion that an impermissible donor has atomised a large donation into a number of smaller ones I don’t think a political party can turn a blind eye to that.”

The Brexit Party Provide their own Stats

A Brexit Party spokesperson told Byline Times: “Trust in politics could not be more important, so we are very happy for confirm that there has been no jiggery pokery with our figures. Incredible as it may seem, we really do have more than 100,000 registered supporters. We know our detractors are desperate to believe we’re making it up, and are sorry to disappoint.”

They also sent this screenshot of their traffic, but Byline Times is trying to establish the source and why it shows zero traffic for the time period in question

Brexit Party Traffic – source Brexit Party

“While we forge ahead, building a new party to restore trust in democracy, it seems some people are still struggling to get their heads round the scale of our support and wasting everybody’s time concocting conspiracy theories,” a spokesperson said.

UPDATE 16/05/2019

Byline Times checked with other paid for services which showed traffic more consistent with the JetPack statistics going back beyond the period it was activated on 23 April.

However, the extra detail only heightened the problems around the PayPal button and its minimal security settings. The main referrer to and from the site was PayPal with 40% of the outgoing traffic and 50% of all incoming traffic (presumably after payment).

There is just nothing like this PayPal (Finance tab) traffic on any comparable political site.


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