The Conservatives received more than £10m towards their election war chest in just three months – far more than the other parties combined.
The flood of cash into the Tory coffers is enabling it to outspend Labour in pre-election skirmishes ahead of the campaign. It reported gifts worth £10,481,949 in last quarter of 2009, compared with £4,962,886 collected by Labour and £1,055,717 received by the Liberal Democrats. The figures released by the Electoral Commission also show that the Conservatives raised some £26m during 2009, while Labour received about £16m over the year.
The appeal of David Cameron's party to donors adds to the pressure on Labour to match Tory spending. It is certain to appeal to the unions for fresh funds to bankroll its campaign.
The biggest Tory donor was the property magnate David Rowland, who handed over 738,000 to the party. The son of a scrap metal dealer whose wealth is estimated at £630m, he recently moved from tax exile on Guernsey to the mainland so he could donate money to the party.
Stanley Fink, described as the "godfather" of hedge funds, gave £501,640 and Lord John Sainsbury, the chairman and chief executive of J Sainsbury from 1969 to 1992, donated £500,000. Michael Bishop, the former owner of the BMI airline, gave £335,000, while Michael Farmer, the founder of a metal-trading hedge fund, contributed £274,000.
The Electoral Commission figures also show that two companies associated with Lord Ashcroft, the Conservative deputy chairman, gave the party more than £100,000 in sponsorship and free transport.
Labour received £1,010,000 from Sir Nigel Doughty, the head of private equity company Doughty Hanson, and £1m from another member of the Sainsbury family, the former minister Lord David Sainsbury. It received donations of £874,984 from the super-union Unite and another £402,414 from the public sector union Unison. The financier Sir Ronald Cohen gave the party £250,000.
The Electoral Commission also disclosed that the Tories had increased their overdraft by £5m and Labour had raised its credit facility by £2m.
David Blunkett, Labour's chief election fundraiser, has said his party cannot afford to emulate the Tory election budget. He claimed it would be able to spend about £8m in the election, compared with an £18m budget for the Conservatives. In an email to party members, he said: "The announcement has confirmed what we've known for a long time – we're the underdogs in this election."
Eric Pickles, the Tory chairman, highlighted the contribution from Unite, the union behind the planned British Airways strike. He said: "It's frightening that day by day the unions' stranglehold on the Labour party is tightening. As millions face air travel misery, we now discover that the union behind it is bankrolling the Labour Party."
The Tories were singled out for criticism by the Commission for failing to declare the money it had received on time. The Conservatives reported £637,069 in the last quarter of 2009 that it should have declared earlier.
Peter Wardle, its chief executive, said: "We have had a particularly high level of late-reported donations this quarter from the Conservative Party head office.
"They have told us that this was the result of computer problems. The Electoral Commission has met party officers, who have set out their plans to address these problems and return to timely reporting."
Political parties received £17,088,525 in gifts over the quarter, the third highest total on record, with the Conservatives receiving 62 per cent of the money. The UK Independence Party received gifts worth £197,151, the Green Party £89,183, and the Scottish National Party £26,111.Reuse content