Political parties anonymous donation 'loophole' criticised

By Joe Langstaffe
BBC Wales News

  • Published
MoneyImage source, PA Media
Image caption,
Unincorporated associations can include bodies such as local councillor groups, as well as members-only clubs

Some bodies which fund political parties in the UK have been accused of exploiting a "loophole" so they can anonymously put money into politics.

MPs and other Conservative Party bodies in Wales have received almost £40,000 from unincorporated associations since the 2019 General Election.

Unincorporated associations can include bodies such as local councillor groups, as well as members-only clubs.

The Welsh Tories said all major parties received those kinds of donations.

Unincorporated associations are required to register with the Electoral Commission when they make political donations above £25,000 in a single year, but are not required to provide the names of their members.

They are also required to report all gifts they receive over £7,500 within a three-year period, although according to the Electoral Commission, no gifts have been declared by any unincorporated association since 2014.

Journalist and author Peter Geoghegan told BBC Politics Wales this was taking advantage of the system around political donations.

"[These are] groups that don't have any legal standing," he said.

"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."

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart, Ynys Mon MP Virginia Crosbie and Wrexham MP Sarah Atherton have declared donations totalling £14,000 from unincorporated associations in 2020 and 2021.

Seven Conservative associations in Wales, mostly in marginal constituencies, have also received funds from such bodies during that period.

Ms Crosbie said she had used the money to print leaflets about mental health, which were distributed across her constituency, adding it was declared properly and in a fully transparent manner.

Mr Hart said he did not want to comment, while Ms Atherton has been approached for a response.

Mr Geoghegan said he could see no legitimate reason for using unincorporated associations to make donations.

"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."

'Great opportunity'

A paying member of one such association, which has donated money into Welsh politics in the past 12 months, said they preferred to keep their political affiliations private.

"It's just a great opportunity to meet people who are really interesting and to hear what they have to say and, as a businessman, I enjoy the networking," they said.

"I am a Conservative supporter, but the way people are targeted for their politics in Wales is so unpleasant that I prefer to keep my support to myself, so the club works well for me on many levels."

The Welsh Conservatives said: "All major political parties receive donations from unincorporated associations, which are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law."