12:30pm Wednesday 18th December 2013
By Chris Warne
STROUD MP Neil Carmichael faced awkward questions about a £5,000 donation from a private dining club at a public meeting in Stroud on Thursday, December 6.
The Conservative politician was confronted by former Labour MP David Drew, who demanded that he reveal more information about the money he received from the Buckinghamshire-based United and Cecil Club at the end of September.
During a question and answer session at the meeting, which was organised by campaign group 38 Degrees to discuss the lobbying bill, Mr Drew challenged the Tory MP to disclose the identities of those behind the donation.
According to a November report in the Guardian, the United and Cecil Club has raised around £673,195 for the Conservative Party since 2001 through grand dinners.
The supper club, whose members are able to remain anonymous, is said to have made nearly half of all its donations to local Conservative associations, often in marginal seats, like Stroud.
A search of the Electoral Commission’s website reveals that the United and Cecil Club has given a total of £8,000 to the Stroud branch of the Conservative Party in recent years.
In addition to the donation of £5,000 made on September 30 this year, the private dining club also donated £3,000 to Mr Carmichael’s constituency association back in May 2009.
The Electoral Commission’s database also shows that Mr Carmichael accepted a £2,000 donation after the Conservative Friends of Israel funded an all-expenses paid trip for him to the country in 2007.
But it was the latest donation from the United and Cecil Club, which Mr Drew sought to flag up at last week’s meeting.
Earlier in the night, Mr Carmichael had said the controversial lobbying bill, dubbed the ‘gagging law’ by opponents, was all about making clear where the money in politics was coming from.
“This legislation is well-intended and it is all about transparency,” he said.
However, Mr Drew said the bill would do nothing to expose the identities of those making donations anonymously through private member clubs.
Addressing Mr Carmichael directly, he said: “You have just received £5,000 from the United and Cecil club, a private dining club. I can’t know where your money comes from... who’s behind it?”
In his reply, Mr Carmichael said the club was ‘just a lot of people who like having dinners’ and added that he registered all his donations with the Electoral Commission in accordance with the rules.
Any individual or organisation who gives more than £1,500 a year to a constituency association is supposed to be identified on the commission’s website, however a donor who gives through a private club is only named if their gift exceeds £7,500.
According to the Guardian there is no way of monitoring multiple gifts of up to £7,500 to multiple clubs, meaning individual donors can take advantage of a de facto loophole.
* AROUND 150 people packed into the Old Town Hall, Stroud, for a heated debate about the so-called ‘gagging law’ on Thursday night.
The public meeting, organised by campaign group 38 Degrees, was attended by Stroud MP Neil Carmichael, who came under intense pressure to justify his support for the controversial legislation.
Members of the audience heard that the proposed lobbying bill could effectively stop charities and pressure groups like The Royal British Legion, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and 38 Degrees from campaigning on key issues in the run-up to the general election in 2015.
Mr Carmichael, who was heckled throughout the evening, claimed it would strengthen democracy.
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