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Concerns over party fundraising

A former sleaze watchdog has raised concerns about the potential influence a wealthy Russian Conservative donor could have on the party and suggested the Tories' glitzy fundraising ball should be more transparent.

Sir Alistair Graham also criticised Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg over his dealings with a stooge donor and suggested Labour set up talks over policy between a shadow minister and the entrepreneur "very quickly because he was a prospective donor".

As part of an investigation by Channel 4's Dispatches into the access rich donors are given to senior politicians, businessman P aul Wilmott posed as a potential backer with up to £50,000 to hand over and had fleeting encounters with Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Mr Clegg.

Labour and the Conservatives have insisted they have done nothing wrong and that all donations have been properly declared. The Lib Dems said Mr Clegg had "behaved entirely correctly", stressing that senior members of every political party attended fundraising events and assisted in raising money.

Mr Wilmott, a former hedge fund manager, captures footage at the Conservatives' fundraising Black and White Ball, an event that the party goes to great lengths to keep shrouded in secrecy.

Foreign minister Hugo Swire is seen hosting an auction at the glamorous event held in the Grosvenor House hotel and tells the crowd "we are not saying who the donors are for the lots tonight".

The Conservative goes on to make jokes about the MPs expenses scandal, telling the guests: "It's quite naff to have Bentleys and Rolls Royces and Ferraris because anybody could have them.

"In the good old days of MPs expenses we could have them too but we don't any more."

Individual tickets for the ball cost £1,500 on tables joined by Cabinet ministers, £1,000 on tables with a minister and £500 on a standard table.

Sir Alistair, former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told the party : "Ministers, if they meet somebody formally in their offices are required to make that information public. Now, this jolly razzmatazz type affair they don't have to do that."

He added: "I can't see why, if they're doing this sort of thing, they can't be transparent about it and say who was there and who bought what particular auction item."

Mr Wilmott also manages to gain access to a lunch for donors at the Carlton Club in January where Russian businessman Alexander Temerko, who has made donations totalling £220,000 to 24 MPs, is seen sitting next to Jeremy Hunt.

Before the Health Secretary arrives, the energy firm OGN director, who has British citizenship, is heard saying he supports 37 MPs adding: "You know for a change (of) prime minister you need 20, I have 37, much more than half."

Sir Alistair said there was a "danger" from the public's point of view that wealthy supporters had "special access" and opportunities.

He added: "Though it's a joke he's made about 20 being required to trigger a leadership election in the Conservative Party, he's got the opportunity to have a dialogue with them which may have a very significant impact in the Conservative Party."

Mr Temerko's lawyers told the programme that the conservations was "light hearted" and all his donations had been declared in line with the rules.

Labour's Chris Leslie is seen having tea with Mr Wilmott at the Marriott Hotel in Westminster where the pair discuss the possibility of a financial transaction tax.

The shadow chief secretary to the Treasury later emails him to say he will "have a good think" about the points the businessman had made.

Sir Alistair said: "I suspect that the Labour Party would have been quite happy to have his input given his expertise but in this particular case the meeting happened very quickly because he was a prospective donor."

Mr Wilmott also had a number of dealings with Lib Dems, including Lord Strasburger who was filmed apparently advising Mr Wilmott how to channel gifts through his "stepfather".

According to electoral law a party must identify donors if they give a political party more than £7,500 in a calendar year. It is illegal to attempt to deceive the commission about the source of a donation.

The peer - who denies any wrongdoing - resigned the party whip pending an Electoral Commission investigation after details of the sting emerged in recent days.

Mr Clegg was seen with Lord Strasburger and the businessman at a reception in Bath and told him: "A very useful thing as well, it's not a financial year calendar it's an end of year calendar, so you can do things either side."

Sir Alistair said he was "really surprised" by Mr Clegg's comments and said as a party leader is required to "show very high levels of leadership in ethical matters in politics".

He added: "My thoughts are that Lord Strasburger has been involved in an unlawful process where there is a real attempt to deceive where the money is coming from when the law's quite clear that it is an offence to deceive where the money is coming from."

Lord Strasburger told the programme he did not think he had committed an offence.

A Labour spokesman said: "Labour's frontbench team meet frequently with business leaders to listen to their views. There is absolutely no suggestion of any wrongdoing having taken place in this case."

A Conservative spokesman said: "All donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with Electoral Commission rules."

A Lib Dem spokesman said: " The party had no reason to believe that the donation was made by anyone other than the person who signed the cheque.

"When we were alerted to the claim that this donation may, without our knowledge, have been made on someone else's behalf, we referred this matter to the Electoral Commission, and requested their advice on whether the donation should be handed to the Commission or returned to the donor."

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