The murky world of Tory ‘dark money’

By , 12/08/18

As Theresa May’s government teeters on the edge of implosion over Brexit, desperate Tory chiefs are rattling the donation tin. Last month millionaire Tory donors blew tens of thousands of pounds to secure luxury dinners with ministers, ­private hunting trips and a ride in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Bentley during a ­lavish fundraiser.

 

It’s a murky world.

 

Scratch the surface, and you’ll discover that the Tories depend on a tiny group of rich men to survive. Just 62 of them in total! Scratch a bit deeper, and you’ll find Russian oligarchs and their associates donating millions to the Conservative Party.

 

Tory central office even accepted £20,000 from a Vladimir Putin crony to lunch with Ruth Davidson.

 

True to form, the Scottish Tory leader has dodged questions about the donation. Davidson’s also been ducking questions about her own local difficulties over donations.

 

Investigations by the Ferret have revealed that the Scottish Tories accepted almost £320,000 from the secretive Scottish Unionist Association Trust (SUAT). SUAT has in fact donated vast sums to the campaigns of current Tory MPs and MSPs, including the Scottish Secretary David Mundell.

 

Scottish Tory MP

2017 (and 2018 registered) donations received from SUAT

% of actual election spending provided by SUAT

John Lamont (Berwickshire, Roxburgh, and Selkirk)

£8,812.54

95.6%

David Duguid (Banff and Buchan)

£7,500.00

93.4%

Douglas Ross (Moray)

£7,500.00

83.4%

 

SUAT also paid the salaries of David Mundell’s campaign managers at the last two general elections – something he reportedly failed to declare. Bizarrely, one trustee of the SUAT – a Tory lobbyist – claimed that the £320,000 of donations came from investing the proceeds from “tombolas and raffles”.

 

With ambiguity over the legal status of the trust, and in the absence of public accounts, questions have been raised about whether donations from the trust were permissible at all. To date, Ruth Davidson has dodged all questions on dark money donations.

 

When Scottish Tory MPs have been challenged on the issue, they’ve struggled to defend the donations.

 

 

The questions for the Scottish Tories don’t stop there. A BBC Northern Ireland investigation has revealed that former Scottish Tory Vice-Chair and candidate, Richard Cook, is the chair of the another secretive body, the Constitutional Research Council (CRC).

 

 

The DUP were forced to admit that the CRC were behind an anonymous £425,000 donation made to them during the EU referendum. The BBC investigation also raised serious questions about Richard Cook’s business dealings.

 

Despite all of this, Ruth Davidson still dodges all questions and refuses to take any action.

 

The key questions for Ruth Davidson:

  1. Were all donations from the SUAT permissible?

  2. What has the SUAT donated to the Scottish Tories and what checks were in place before accepting these large donations?

  3. Were the candidate expense returns for the three candidates we know received money from SUAT properly completed ?

  4. Did the Tory candidates personally check the permissibility of these donations?

  5. Has Ruth Davidson’s party accepted any donations from the same donors who gave money to the Constitutional Research Council?

 

The Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, Darren Hughes, has said that such a lack of transparency on party donations is “not healthy for democracy".

 

It’s time the Electoral Commission got to grips with the dark money swirling around the Tories.

 

 

Anonymous donations were supposed to be a thing of the past. The Tories can’t be allowed to undermine our democratic process in this way. And Ruth Davidson can’t be allowed to dodge the serious questions she has to answer.

 

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