Home > Uncategorized > Party Fundraising: Where Are the Lines Drawn? #cashforcameron

Party Fundraising: Where Are the Lines Drawn? #cashforcameron

March 25, 2012

I woke up this morning (dadidahdidum) to the “Cash for Cameron” furore going around the Internet. Apparently Peter Cruddas, treasurer of the Conservative Party, has resigned after offering access to David Cameron for £250,000. My initial reaction, apparently shared by the Twitterati, is that this was wrong – but after hearing calls for a Parliamentary Enquiry and even a General Election, I started to think about why it might be wrong.

£250,000 is a staggering sum of money by my standards and my experience of local and regional Lib Dem fundraisers. However, I’ve promoted, attended and helped to organise events within the party where people come to hear and talk to a special guest – who these days might well be a Government minister or even the Deputy Prime Minister! The “rubber chicken circuit” has been a fundraising method for every political party since time immemorial, and has only attracted criticism of the food quality. Similarly, if you pay the conference registration fees (and you don’t have to be a party member to attend Conference, particularly if you represent a commercial interest), you will get to meet various ministers and MPs there.

So the idea of paying, or making donations, and getting to meet important people as a result is not an inherently unreasonable one, nor one that has been deemed improper in other circumstances. There are differences between those examples and this one – scale and style.

As a friend said, if you pay even £100 for a posh dinner, you’ll still expect to be at an event with many other people; perhaps you’ll be able to have a quick chat with the guest of honour, but you wouldn’t have any expectations. For £250,000 pounds – that’s a quarter of a million, for the hard of counting – you might reasonably expect some undefined consideration in return.  I’m not sure you can draw a line between a fundraising event where donors don’t expect anything in return, and one where that expectation is reasonable. After all, people often attend Lib Dem fundraisers to “be seen” and raise their own profile within the party, without laying out a lot of cash. However, in terms of the perception of exerting undue influence, £250k looks like the wrong side of that line – particularly when combined with the style.

The style stinks; the use of the word “access”, the talk of secret meetings, the reference to it providing value to business – all of this makes it look underhand. Had Cruddas said “Mr Cameron is interested in what rich people have to say, and is holding an invite-only dinner party fundraiser with seats priced at £250,000” then it would have seemed a lot less dubious, even if the resulting event were exactly the same.

From cash for questions through selling peerages, money scandals surrounding political parties are nothing new – even the Lib Dems have not escaped, with our opponents regularly throwing the £2.4 donation from later-discovered fraudster Michael Brown at us (despite two Electoral Commission investigations concluding that the party did everything it was required to, and more, to assert that the donation was proper).

I don’t think this is going to cause a General Election, but it might just mean that the Lib Dems’ decades-long effort to reform party funding, from foreign tax-dodgers like Lord Ashcroft through to trades unions buying influence with their members’ dues, may finally get somewhere. But only if we step down off our soapboxes, stop calling for Parliament to be dissolved, and make some sensible suggestions that people can get behind.

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