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Tory Senedd leader defends ‘dark money’ donations to his party

22 Mar 2021 4 minutes Read
Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies, on BBC Politics Wales

The leader of the Tories in the Senedd had defended ‘dark money’ donations to his party.

Andrew RT Davies claimed on BBC Politics Wales that there was “full transparency” when it comes to political donations, and complained about the “damning nature of some criticism”.

The interview follows a series of articles on Nation.Cymru about donations to his party.

He was asked about Welsh Conservative politicians receiving money from a network of cash-for-access donor clubs.

These so-called ‘dark money’ groups act as an intermediary for wealthy Conservative supporters who want to give cash to the party while remaining anonymous.

Such funding is legal but Transparency International says “it shows the rules aren’t achieving their aim: providing transparency and probity over the origins of money in politics.”

Seven new Welsh Conservative MPs to have registered donations worth over £30,000 from such groups.

The Welsh Secretary Simon Hart, Ynys Mon MP Virginia Crosbie and Wrexham MP Sarah Atherton have declared donations totalling £14,000 from groups of this kind in 2020 and 2021.

Seven Conservative associations in Wales, mostly in marginal constituencies, have also received funds.

Crosbie defended taking money from the exclusive London-based Carlton Club, and said it was for the “good of my constituents”.

Andrew RT Davies said: “Well, there is full transparency as your story pointed out because you could prove where the donations had come from.

“What I thought was more telling in that story was that the individual that was quoted in it, and anonymous source, felt that the political environment was so adverse to declaring your political allegiance in Wales that he couldn’t do that.

“I think that’s more telling, is the atmosphere around political allegiances here in Wales and the damning nature of some criticism that comes if you’re part of the Conservative Party, part of the Labour Party, part of Plaid Cymru.

“It’s across all the parties and I do think we just need to tone that level of abuse down so that people can engage passionately.”

When it was suggested to him that some people might be hiding behind the anonymity, he said: “No I don’t agree with that at all. I’ve seen a note about this part of the programme that you did about the Carlton Club.

“Well everybody knows where the Carlton Club is. You have to be conservative-minded to obviously be a member of that, and ultimately I don’t accept the criticism.”

‘Loophole’ 

Journalist and author Peter Geoghegan told BBC Politics Wales this was taking advantage of a ‘loophole’ in the law on political donations.

He said: “[These are] groups that don’t have any legal standing.

“They don’t have a registered address, they don’t file accounts, but they can make donations to political parties.

“Millions of pounds have gone in from unincorporated associations into politics, mainly to the Conservatives, over the last few years.

“You can give money below £7,500 and that doesn’t have to be declared.

“In Westminster you could argue that’s probably a reasonably large amount of money, but in somewhere like Wales or Northern Ireland or even in Scotland, that’s quite a significant chunk of money that can go unregistered.”

“We have laws around political donations for a reason,” he said.

“Somebody who’s giving money to an unincorporated association, instead of going through a fundraising group, they can just give money themselves to a political party, to a politician, to a constituency office.

“This isn’t prohibited, and I think this is my big issue with a lot of these unincorporated associations. Transparency.

“You can’t see who’s behind it, I think that’s the issue with it.

“It’s a real loophole in electoral law. We’ve seen time and again that if there is loopholes in the law, people will exploit them and they will take advantage of them.”

‘No apology’

Yesterday Nation.Cymru revealed that Ynys Môn MP Virginia Crosbie had taken  a donation from a “top end” London property agency owned by the chair of a Conservative party cash-for-access donor club.

Crosbie accepted £2,000 from Charles McDowell Properties of Knightsbridge on March 1, updates to the register of MPs’ interests reveals.

It comes shortly after Nation.Cymru reported she had received major donations from one of Britain’s richest families and London’s elite Carlton Club.

In response to a request for comment, Virginia Crosbie told Nation.Cymru that she made “no apology” for accepting the money and said it was used “for the good of my constituents here on Ynys Môn”.

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