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David Cameron's Dinner Guests Are Responsible For A Third Of The Tories' Donations

A small group of high-level donors are bankrolling the party's election campaign.

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Forty-two Conservative donors gave more than £8 million to the party between them in a single year, BuzzFeed News has learned.

Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

The donors are members of the party's elite Leader's Group.

In exchange for donating £50,000 a year or more, they get to "join David Cameron and other senior figures from the Conservative Party at dinners, post-PMQ lunches, drinks receptions, election result events and important campaign launches".

In the last three months of 2014, that meant cabinet members George Osborne, Matthew Hancock, Theresa May, Philip Hammond, Elizabeth Truss, Michael Fallon, Esther McVey, Nicky Morgan, Sajid Javid, and Iain Duncan Smith.

The names – which cover that three-month period – come from a release on the party's website.

BuzzFeed News worked out that between them, they gave £8,124,046.47 to the party in a single year.

This is counting donations to the central party and its local branches between 1 October 2013 and 30 September 2014, the latest period for which figures are available.

So this set of 42 people or companies turns out to have been responsible for roughly a third of donations to the party over the year in question.

Technically it amounts to 31% of the £25,600,789 in total donations to the Tories registered with the Electoral Commission. This figure also includes £171,168 in public funding, plus the value of sundry non-cash donations.
Robert Colvile / BuzzFeed / Highcharts.com

Technically it amounts to 31% of the £25,600,789 in total donations to the Tories registered with the Electoral Commission. This figure also includes £171,168 in public funding, plus the value of sundry non-cash donations.

The Conservatives woo big donors using a pyramid structure.

It goes up from Patron (£600 a year) to the Business & Entrepreneurs Forum (£2,500), the Front Bench Club (£5,000), the Renaissance Forum (£10,000), and the Treasurers' Group (£25,000).

The highest level is the Leader's Group, for which you have to donate at least £50,000 a year.

The top five members all gave £500,000 or more over the 12 months we looked at.

First was Sir Michael Hintze. In the final quarter of 2013 and the first three quarters of 2014, the asset manager gave £1.53 million, and was invited with his wife for a meal with the prime minister at Chequers.

The prime minister's official country residence.
Oli Scarff / Getty Images

The prime minister's official country residence.

Next came Lord Farmer, the metals trader and party co-treasurer, who gave £1.16 million, plus another £100,000 to the Conservative Christian Fellowship. Sir James Lupton, a banker, gave £1.03 million.

Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, an 87-year-old member of the supermarket dynasty, gave £600,000 – although his brother has long been a major Labour donor. And Mike Gooley, founder of Trailfinders and former member of the SAS, gave £500,000.

Some of the donors have colourful pasts.

Alexander Temerko, 39, is a former vice president of the Russian oil company Yukos, previously run by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which fell foul of Vladimir Putin. He was granted British citizenship in 2011, and now runs an energy company in Newcastle. He reportedly paid £90,000 for a bust of David Cameron in an auction at a donors' dinner.
Johnny Green / Press Association

Alexander Temerko, 39, is a former vice president of the Russian oil company Yukos, previously run by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which fell foul of Vladimir Putin. He was granted British citizenship in 2011, and now runs an energy company in Newcastle. He reportedly paid £90,000 for a bust of David Cameron in an auction at a donors' dinner.

Some don't actually live in this country.

Georg von Opel, great-grandson of the founder of his namesake German car firm, gave £351,494. He is on the electoral register, but lives in Switzerland. He has been named by The Guardian as having an account or accounts with HSBC's private Swiss bank, which is now under scrutiny over allegations that it facilitated tax evasion or avoidance. The Mirror got very annoyed about him when it found the list.
Desmond O'Neill Features

Georg von Opel, great-grandson of the founder of his namesake German car firm, gave £351,494. He is on the electoral register, but lives in Switzerland. He has been named by The Guardian as having an account or accounts with HSBC's private Swiss bank, which is now under scrutiny over allegations that it facilitated tax evasion or avoidance. The Mirror got very annoyed about him when it found the list.

Others may sound familiar.

For example, Rosemary Said is the wife of Wafic Said, the Syrian-born businessman who advised on the multi-billion-pound Al-Yamamah arms deal between Britain and Saudi Arabia. She gave £141,316.

The most aptly named donor, who gave the minimum of £50,000, is Michael Tory.

Nominative determinism in action!

Not all of the party's biggest donors, however, appeared on the Leader's Group list.

For example, the Bamford family, who own JCB, gave more than £800,000.

In November, the prime minister made a major speech on immigration at the company's headquarters.
Getty Images WPA Pool

In November, the prime minister made a major speech on immigration at the company's headquarters.

The Conservatives also received £769,226.80 from the late Violet Baker, dubbed the "wicked widow" after she left the party all her money while giving nothing to her Labour-supporting family.

The 86-year-old's sister-in-law said the bequest was made "out of nothing but hate and contempt" for her late husband's family. "If the Conservative party has any decency," said Elsie Clark, "they will at least donate the money to the hospice."

More conventional donors included John Griffin, Barrie Pettman, and Christopher Rokos.

Griffin, the founder of the taxi firm Addison Lee, gave £500,000. So did Pettman, who made his fortune in publishing. Rokos, a hedge-fund magnate, gave £746,000.

The party also received £151,900 from Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Vladimir Putin's former finance minister, who won an auction to play tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

It is unclear whether the match ever took place, but the donation appears to have been retained.
Jan Kruger / Getty Images

It is unclear whether the match ever took place, but the donation appears to have been retained.

In fact, donations from the Leader's Club, plus other individuals who gave lump sums of at least £150,000, amount to more than half of the Tories' total over the financial year.

That's 54 people or companies paying a hair under £13 million into the party's coffers, out of total donations of £25.6 million.
Robert Colvile / BuzzFeed / Highcharts.com

That's 54 people or companies paying a hair under £13 million into the party's coffers, out of total donations of £25.6 million.

And that actually understates the scale of the large donors' role.

That's because there are many more donors under our arbitrary cut-off point. They include the mobile firm Lycamobile, which gave several donations totalling more than £146,000. It has been accused in the past of failing to pay its due share of corporation tax.

These figures do not include the vast sums raised at the Tories' recent Black and White Ball, which many of the same top-tier donors would have attended.

Nor will the next set of figures for Q4 2014, due from the Electoral Commission imminently, since it took place this month.

The auction lots, obtained by BuzzFeed News, included this private holiday in Santorini, which went for £220,000.

BuzzFeed News

Guests were also offered the chance to go shoe shopping with Theresa May and running with Iain Duncan Smith.

BuzzFeed News
BuzzFeed News

Of course, Labour has exactly the same problem of being dependent on a few large donors.

In the same 12 months, the Unite union, headed by Len McCluskey, gave more than £2.6 million to the Labour party and its affiliates, far more than any individual Conservative donor.
Carl Court / AFP / Getty Images

In the same 12 months, the Unite union, headed by Len McCluskey, gave more than £2.6 million to the Labour party and its affiliates, far more than any individual Conservative donor.

And British politics is still far, far less dominated by money than America's.

For example, US vice president Joe Biden recently suggested that each campaign in the 2016 presidential election could spend up to $2 billion.

But if all these people are getting for their money is just the chance to have a chat with the prime minister or go on a 10k run with Iain Duncan Smith, you have to assume they're getting a pretty bad deal.

Robert Colvile is UK News Director at BuzzFeed and is based in London.

Contact Robert Colvile at robert.colvile@buzzfeed.com.

Siraj Datoo is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Siraj Datoo at siraj.datoo@buzzfeed.com.

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