The Conservatives have launched a last-minute fundraising drive to fill a multimillion-pound hole in their election coffers.
New figures published last night showed the Tories raised almost £1.5m in the first week of the campaign – nearly twice the amount banked by Labour. But the Tories admitted they still had not yet been able to accumulate the £18.9m that they are allowed to spend during the campaign under electoral law. Party treasurers are still contacting wealthy supporters in an effort to persuade them to part with more cash.
The shortfall will come as a surprise to senior Conservatives who assumed they would be able to achieve the target well before electioneering began.
A Tory source refused to comment on suggestions that the party still needed to collect £3m from supporters. But he added: "We are continuing to raise money through the campaign, because we have to."
Figures released by the Electoral Commission showed the Conservatives received a total of £1,455,811 in 33 large donations between 6 and 13 April. Labour collected £783,159 in seven donations and the Liberal Democrats just £20,000 from two.
As the figures only cover gifts of more than £7,500, they do not include smaller donations. Last night the Tories said they had raised at least £250,000 online from thousands of supporters since the campaign began, with an average amount of about £50.
Their largest donation over the period was £250,000 from IPGL Ltd, a company controlled by the Tory treasurer, Michael Spencer.
The party was handed £150,000 by the Glasgow-based Juniper Property Finance Company Ltd and £100,000 by the manufacturer Christopher Rea.
Eighty per cent of Labour's donations over the week came from unions, with the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians contributing £371,000 and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers handing over £266,953.
The businessman Faiz ul Rasool donated £80,000, and Richard Brindle, the head of an insurance group, gave £26,867.
David Blunkett, the former cabinet minister in charge of fundraising for Labour, said: "The support Labour is receiving from ordinary people, many of whom have not been party activists in the past, but are drawn to us now because of the vision we're offering for the future and the threat posed to that by the Tories, is breathtaking."
Labour's figures did not include a donation from Lord Sugar, which was made after the reporting period.
The Liberal Democrats received £10,000 from the businessman Paul Strasburger and £10,000 from Stephen Dawson.
The Conservatives were given the use of a helicopter for the election – listed as worth £8,901.86 – by a supporter named Christopher Meade, as well as helicopter flights worth £8,160 by Eastern Atlantic Helicopters based in West Sussex.
Advertising costs worth £30,000 were donated by M & C Saatchi, who have been brought in to hone the Tory message, while the party's main advertising agency, Euro RSCG, donated costs worth £18,750.
Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission also disclosed that nearly 400,000 voting registration forms were downloaded from its site ahead of last night's deadline to register for a vote. It said 40 per cent of visits to its website had been from young adults aged 18 to 24. Numbers of calls to its helpline doubled after the first televised leaders' debate last Thursday.