Nearly a third of donations to the Conservatives' key marginal and target seats have been provided by David Cameron's exclusive diners' group of top Tory benefactors, new figures reveal.
Fifteen of the Tories' key 40/40 seats – those the party is defending and their top targets – were entirely reliant on the controversial Leader's Group money in 2014, the figures from the Electoral Commission show. Donors can gain access to the exclusive circle by giving £50,000 or more a year to the Conservative Party a year, which wins them access to the Prime Minister and other top Tories over dinner.
Since the last election, of the £2,638,752 donated directly to the Conservatives' 40/40 seats, £798,120, or 30 per cent, came from organisations or individual members of the Leader's Group. The 40/40 seats are those Mr Cameron's party needs to win to secure an outright majority on 7 May.
In 30 of those 80 seats, Leader's Group donations made up the majority of the funding since 2010. In 2014, 15 seats received all their money from these donors. The seats funded exclusively by rich donors included five Conservative marginals: Cardiff North, Dewsbury, Erewash, Nuneaton and Warwickshire North; six Labour-held Tory targets: Chorley, Gower, Hampstead and Kilburn, Morley and Outwood, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Derbyshire North East; and four Lib Dem-held Tory targets: Cheadle, Devon North, Solihull and St Ives.
The Conservatives have selected most of their candidates for their target seats. But they have spent the past week trying to contain a row between Downing Street and the Home Office after Theresa May's most senior adviser, Nick Timothy, was barred from standing as a candidate in Aldridge-Brownhills, a Tory safe seat in the West Midlands, amid claims that he refused to break election rules by campaigning in the Rochester and Strood by-election last month.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jonathan Ashworth said: "David Cameron is trying to buy the election through an exclusive network of elite donors who dine at his top table. The Tories stand up for a privileged few because they rely on them to fund their election campaign.
"Rather than stand up for working people, David Cameron has given millionaires and hedge funds a tax cut. These are the same people given access to his top ministers and who are bankrolling Tory coffers."
The Conservatives' own website describes the top donors' circle: "The Leader's Group is the premier supporter Group of the Conservative Party. Members are invited to join David Cameron and other senior figures from the Conservative Party at dinners, post-PMQ lunches, drinks receptions, election result events and important campaign launches."
The ministers who entertain Leader's Group donors alongside the Prime Minister include George Osborne, Theresa May, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Philip Hammond and William Hague. Leader's Group donors in 2014 include Russian-born businessman Alexander Temerko, private jets firm owner Serge Sergeef and James Stunt, the husband of Bernie Ecclestone's daughter Petra.