In Britain, keeping campaign finances a secret is no crime
April 4, 1997
Web posted at: 9:25 p.m. EST (0225 GMT)
From Correspondent Margaret Lowrie
LONDON (CNN) -- British voters may never learn where the
country's two largest political parties raise the 60 million
pounds ($90 million) that they plan to spend during the
current election campaign.
But Britons know one thing for sure: Some of the largesse
being tucked into Tory and Labor coffers will come from
places far afield of the queen's dominions.
This is because in Britain, there are no laws requiring
disclosure of political contributions. And politicians not
only accept donations from outside of the country, they
actively pursue them.
"The problem in Britain is exactly the same as the problem in
the United States, namely, that the campaign finance laws are
written by members of Parliament," according to Bill Emmott,
editor of The Economist. "And it's then members of Parliament
who are raising the finances for their campaigns."
Conservatives court Asian money
Individual candidates for Parliament are limited to what they
can spend on their campaigns, but there's no limit to party
And while President Clinton and his Democratic Party have
been mired in a controversy over accepting campaign
contributions from Asian nationals, a process that is illegal
in the United States, the Conservative Party in Britain has
set up an organization called the Dragon Club to actively
seek Asian money.
Despite allegations of "dirty money," the Conservatives
reportedly kept a 450,000 pound ($700,000) contribution from
Turkish-Cypriot financier Asil Nadir, who also happens to be
a fugitive from British justice.
"What sometimes happens is that contributions are made from
dubious people, and the party treasurers have to make their
judgment about whether they think that it will turn out to be
a boomerang," says Ben Pimlott, biographer of former Prime
Minister Harold Wilson.
"Recently, the Conservative Party has turned out to be much
more careless, perhaps, than the Labor Party in this
'I want to know who is bribing my government.'
"The basic problem is lack of disclosure, generally," Emmott.
says. "I don't think that there's a particular issue in my
mind as to whether or not the funds come from a domestic
briber of government or a foreign briber of government.
"Either way, I want to know who is bribing my government"
Washington may have been rocked by revelations that Clinton
was inviting campaign contributors to have coffee in the
White House, but, in London, big-time contributors expect
more than just a spot of tea at 10 Downing Street. Twice a
year, they are invited to dine with the prime minister.
Now even the Labor Party, which is supported by trade union
money, is hosting fund-raising meals.
"That's something that used to be unheard of, even a few
years ago, and is now standard practice," Pimlott says.
"Whether there's anything wrong with it is a matter of
opinion. I suppose the critical question is whether people
who make contributions in this kind of way ... think they're
getting something out of it in terms of political favors."
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