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Tory donations: Secretive members’ clubs have given party £5m in five years

Electoral Commission loophole has reignited allegations of cash for access

The Conservatives have been given more than £5m since the last election through secretive members’ clubs – that allow donors to keep their identity hidden from public scrutiny.

This week The Independent revealed that in the last four months the Tories were given £140,000 by an organisation called the United and Cecil Club to fund election campaigns in marginal seats.

The money was given by donors at lunches and dinners attended by senior Conservative figures, including at least five cabinet ministers. But due to a loophole in Electoral Commission rules the individuals and organisations donating do not have to be named – reigniting allegations of cash for access.

Now an analysis by Labour of donations to the Conservatives reveals the extent of the secret donations from similar organisations. It shows the Tories received nearly £500,000 from so-called unincorporated associations in the first four months of this year. Over the last year the Conservatives have received £1,359,416.32 from these groups.

Labour said there was a clear trend showing the money was being targeted at the most marginal seats which the Tories will need to hold or win in order to secure victory next May. It said that £293,000 of this quarter’s donations from such clubs went directly to individual Conservative associations and regions.

And 50 of the 57 donations – totalling £164,362.30 – went to seats on the Conservatives’ “40:40 list” of marginal seats identified by central office as targets for 2015.

Under Electoral Commission rules covering unincorporated associations, donations to such a body need only be declared and donors identified if individual donors within them give more than £7,500 in any calendar year. By contrast the identity of any donor giving more than £1,500 directly to a political party needs to be declared.

A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission said all it could do was police the rules as they were set down.

But Jon Ashworth, Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, said David Cameron has “questions to answer” over how the Tories were funded.

“While millions flood in to the Conservative central office through a group of millionaire donors – the same millionaires the Tories have given a tax cut to – increasingly money is pouring in to target seats through a network of secretive groups who don’t have to disclose the source of all their money,” he said.

“This Prime Minister said he was committed to transparency – he should practise what he preaches and give us full transparency on where his party gets its millions from.”

But a Conservative spokesman said all the donations were declared within the existing rules in a proper way.

A source added that Labour and the Liberal Democrats also used such groups to fund-raise with Labour getting money from associations such as Movement for Change and the Progress Group.