U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron published details of Conservative Party donors who dined at his private apartment, seeking to defuse allegations that cash brought privileged access to the head of government.
“None of these dinners were fundraising dinners, none of these dinners were paid for by the taxpayer,” Cameron said in a speech in London today. “From now on the Conservative Party will publish, every quarter, details of any dinners attended by any major donors.”
Shortly after Cameron spoke, his office published the details of the participants in dinners in February and November last year and in January 2012, as well as a post-election event in July 2010 and meals at his country residence, Chequers. Those attending included fundraiser Andrew Feldman, appointed as a House of Lords lawmaker in November 2010, financier David Rowland, ICAP Plc Chief Executive Officer Michael Spencer and Arbuthnot Banking Group Plc CEO Henry Angest.
The party’s co-treasurer, Peter Cruddas, resigned yesterday after the Sunday Times newspaper published secretly filmed comments in which he appeared to offer access to Cameron in exchange for 250,000 pounds ($397,000). The prime minister said yesterday the party would investigate the incident.
Cameron repeated an offer to other parties to set a cap on donations at 50,000 pounds to curb the perception of corruption. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude told the House of Commons today that “party funding needs to be reformed” and cross-party talks on changing the system will begin shortly.
“In the two years I’ve been prime minister, there have been three occasions on which significant donors have come to dinner in my flat” in Downing Street as well as the dinner at his official residence after the May 2010 election at which major donors were present, Cameron said.
Speaking to Sunday Times reporters posing as wealth-fund executives, Cruddas said large donors had previously been invited to private dinners with Cameron and his wife Samantha in the Downing Street apartment. He said “things will open up” for anybody willing to make a large donation, adding, “it will be awesome for your business.”
Maude said this morning high-value donors could expect to be invited to dinners with Cameron, though not in his apartment. “There’s nothing remotely improper about that, or new, and all parties do that,” he told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” show. “What’s being alleged here is that you can buy influence, you can buy policy, and that is simply not the case.”
‘Proper Party Inquiry’
“What happened is completely unacceptable, it shouldn’t have happened,” Cameron said yesterday at an event in Buckinghamshire, England. “It’s quite right that Peter Cruddas has resigned. I’ll make sure there’s a proper party inquiry to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Responding to Maude’s announcement in the Commons, opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said that “we’re happy to have proper talks about funding, but it’s ridiculous for the government to use them as a smokescreen.”
Cameron had “something to hide,” he said, arguing that an internal probe would produce “an inquiry into the Conservative Party, by the Conservative Party, for the Conservative Party.” He called on the Electoral Commission to investigate.
Miliband linked the donors’ presence in Downing Street with last week’s budget, in which Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced the top income-tax rate would fall next year to 45 percent from 50 percent.
“Eighteen million pounds from 12 donors,” Miliband said. “I bet they did all right in the budget.”
Cash for Honors
British lawmakers recommended capping donations after a 2006 police investigation into accusations that then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labour Party sold seats in the House of Lords for financial support. In 2010, Cameron said he was “disgusted” by a secretly filmed television report claiming to show former Labour ministers discussing how they could use their experience and contacts in government to lobby on behalf of companies.
The Conservative Party made “well over” 5 million pounds selling private dinners with Cameron to the party’s biggest donors, in which they can pick up “key bits of information” by asking him questions, the Sunday Times cited Cruddas as saying.
He said that “premier league” donors prepared to give 250,000 pounds a year could lobby Cameron directly and their views would be “fed in” to the Downing Street policy unit. There was no point in “scratching around” with donations of 10,000 pounds, he said.
In his resignation statement, Cruddas, founder of CMC Markets Plc, described his comments as “bluster” and said there was “no question” of donors gaining undue access to senior figures.
“Clearly there is no question of donors being able to influence policy or gain undue access to politicians,” Cruddas said. “It was categorically not the case that I could offer, or that David Cameron would consider, any access as a result of a donation.”
Cruddas will be replaced as the party’s co-treasurer by Stanley Fink, the Conservatives said in the e-mailed statement.