Thursday, February 26, 2009

What does Ashcroft's bear do in the woods?

Following on from the previous post about political donations it appears that all is not well in the Tory house of card sharps. One of the largest donations to any UK political party last year came from top Tory Lord Ashcroft's company Bearwood Corporate Services which, if it was an Internet site, could be described as an anonymising proxy.

Essentially BCS hosts fund raising dinners for the Tory Party, collects in the money and then hands over large sums of money as a donation from it rather than the benefactors who remain unseen. This means that all those attending the dinners, many of whom have handed over large sums of money - clearly over the £5,000 threshold for declaration - do not have to declare themselves as donors to the Party.

According to the FT today Ashcroft is now under investigation for this front organisation (here) because even if it's within the law it's certainly not in the spirit of the rules.

The UK has rather strict rules about who can donate significant sums of money to its political parties. You have to be on the electoral role for a start. So whilst Mandelson comes in for a lot of flak for rubbing shoulders with Russian oligarchs we simply have not got a clue who is donating to the Conservatives, nor which country's natural resources they are exploiting.

Are they taking money from arms dealers? Pornographers? Or worse... property developers? What screening process takes place for these anonymous donors, if any? Half a million pounds came from BCS last year of which, according to The Telegraph, the entirety came from a single October fundraiser in Glasgow.

The money then passed through another front organisation, Focus on Scotland, which as "an "unincorporated association", [is] a legal entity that does not have to publish accounts or other financial details." Since 2004 this one association has passed on one and a half million pounds to the Tories from anonymous donors.

This may well be a perfectly legal exploitation of a loophole in the regulations, but none the less its extremely shabby practice allowing those who are meant to be excluded from donating to donate and cutting against any profession that the Tories want to see more transparency and honesty in politics.

ps I must read this.

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