‘Hedge fund lobbying’: Tories wine and dine 45 tycoons in 12 weeks

Prime Minister David Cameron with his wife Samantha Cameron. (Reuters / Darren Staples)
The Tories held lavish private dinners for 45 wealthy businessmen and hedge fund chiefs over the course of 12 weeks in 2014. Critics say the tycoons are funding marginal Conservative seats that could sway the result of the general election.

In the Conservatives’ most recent transparency filing, details of glitzy dinners held for wealthy donors have caused controversy.

According to official figures, private dinners were hosted for members of Prime Minister David Cameron’s “leaders group” whose collective donations to the Conservatives since 2011 surpass £40 million.

The tycoons have recently channeled £5 million towards various Conservative constituency groups, 70 of which relate to marginal Tory seats. In return for handing over £50,000 each, they receive direct access to Cameron and his cabinet members.

The extravagant dinners differ markedly from other Conservative fundraising events such as black tie balls. They are reportedly much more intimate evenings, where donors can freely discuss politics and policy with key government ministers.

Cameron said in 2010 lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen” in Britain.

However, since the Tories have been in power, anti-corruption think tank Transparency International UK says British politics has been blighted by at least 14 major lobbying scandals.

The think tank says such scandals include MPs and select peers agreeing to lobby for payment, the coalition’s failure to publicly disclose evidence for certain policy decisions, and evidence of a revolving door between business and politics.

‘Political wing of hedge fund industry’

The Tories' transparency filing shows key Conservative ministers wined and dined scores of its top donors between October and December 2014.

It also indicates the PM personally hosted wealthy hedge fund manager Sir Michael Hinzte at a private dinner last October.

Labour’s Shadow Cabinet office minister, Jon Ashworth, said the revelations suggest the Tories had effectively become the “political wing of the hedge fund industry.”

Ashworth warned a self-interested group of hedge fund chiefs and businessmen are assisting the party in buying the general election. He stressed these are the very millionaires the Conservatives recently offered tax cuts to.

Another donor who attended the Tories’ private dinners is Swiss national Georg von Opel. Opel has been resident in Switzerland since 1973. Renowned for its financial secrecy, the country is a hive of hedge fund activity.

Other well-heeled donors who attended the soirees include Howard Shore, founder of stock brokers firm Shore Capital, Michael Spencer, founder of disgraced City inter-dealer broker Icap, and metals trading tycoon and Tory treasurer Lord Farmer.

Alexander Temerko, chief of oil and gas firm Offshore Group Newcastle, was also an attendee. Temerko told the Newcastle Journal in November the Tories “spend time and listen to us.”

“They change the law and they change the regulation, and the regulation today is simpler and much more effective,” he added.

‘Transparency is key to public trust’

As details of political party donations across Britain emerged on Thursday, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life Lord Bew said “public skepticism” is rife.

He said resistance from Conservative and Labour MPs makes the system very difficult to reform.

Bew argued increased transparency is paramount, particularly regarding the financial affairs of wealthy donors who are made peers.

Britain's Electoral Reform Society published a report on Thursday addressing the murky world of political party funding.

The report said transparency is key to public trust. It argued Britons have become so disenchanted with mainstream UK political parties, they “have grown to expect” funding scandals.

The Electoral Reform Society’s research revealed eight political parties in Britain received a total of £22 million in the last quarter of 2014.

The group called for a cap on donations to curb Britain’s “big donor” culture, increased public funding of political parties, and the imposition of a cap on campaign spending.

Transparency International UK also calls for widespread reform of lobbying in Britain. It warns many “lobbying distortions and abuses” are currently legal in the UK.

In a report published earlier this year, it said MPs must target and clamp down on “lobbying loopholes” that facilitate “corrupt activity.”