Pay-for-PM sting claims Tory official


A Conservative Party treasurer has been forced to resign after undercover journalists secretly filmed him offering access to the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, for donations of up to £250,000 ($378,900).
The Sunday Times reports that its journalists were told that gifts of more than £200,000 got donors in the party’s “premier league”. A large gift would be “good for your business” and “things will open up for you”, the senior party fund-raiser Peter Cruddas is alleged to have said.
“The first thing we want to do is get you at the Cameron-[Chancellor of the Exchequer George] Osborne dinners,” he said. “If you’re unhappy about something, we will listen to you and put it into the policy committee at Number 10 – we feed all feedback to the policy committee.”
A Labor MP demanded that Mr Cameron explain how much he knew about the scheme.
“Time and again the Tory party has been the obstacle to capping donations from wealthy individuals. Now it appears obvious why,” said Michael Dugher, member for Barnsley East.
The journalists were posing as wealth-fund executives based in Liechtenstein, which would have made them ineligible to donate to a British political party. But the paper claims they were told they could get around the law by creating a subsidiary company or using British employees to pass on the money.
Mr Cruddas was said to have claimed that attendance at dinners with Mr Cameron earned the party about £5 million a year.
The meeting was arranged by Sarah Southern, a lobbyist who used to work as an aide to the Prime Minister and who allegedly said not to worry about making foreign donations as the party doesn’t “pry as to where the money comes from, at all”.
Mr Cruddas resigned on Saturday night, saying, “I deeply regret any impression of impropriety arising from my bluster in that conversation. Clearly, there is no question of donors being able to influence policy or gain undue access to politicians.”
In a statement, he said he had become principal treasurer only at the beginning of this month and had had “an initial conversation” without “consulting any politicians or senior officials in the party”. Mr Cruddas is said to have a fortune of £750 million from spread betting in financial markets and is a member of the party’s ruling board as well as a co-treasurer.
A party spokesman said it always obeyed the electoral laws and that no donation resulting from any such offers had ever been accepted. “Unlike the Labour Party, where union donations are traded for party policies, donations to the Conservative Party do not buy party or government policy. We will urgently investigate any evidence to the contrary,” he said.
Conservatives and Labour have been negotiating for years over party funding, with the Conservatives resisting the idea of state funding for political parties.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.