LONDON (Reuters) - A senior fundraiser for Britain’s ruling Conservative Party resigned on Sunday after being secretly filmed offering exclusive access to Prime Minister David Cameron in return for donations of 250,000 pounds a year.
The disclosure is damaging for Cameron’s party which has tried to shake off an image of being too close to the interests of business and the rich as Britain undergoes a strict austerity programme to cut its budget deficit.
The party’s co-Treasurer Peter Cruddas stood down within hours of the Sunday Times newspaper publishing video of him telling undercover reporters, posing as international financiers, that the contributions would enable them to ask Cameron “practically any question you want”.
The Conservative Party said no donation had been accepted or formally considered and that it complied with electoral funding legislation.
The Conservative-led coalition government is facing a backlash after a budget last week that cut tax for top earners while freezing tax allowances for pensioners.
Although there were also some tax cuts for lower earners, the budget went down badly with many Britons, giving the impression the government was looking after the wealthy and cared little for those suffering rising unemployment and falling incomes as the economy struggles to recover from recession.
The Sunday Times reporters had posed as Liechtenstein-based fund managers who wanted to develop contacts with Cameron and other ministers on behalf of their Middle East investors.
Cruddas told them the access would be “awesome for your business”, adding some of the party’s bigger donors had enjoyed dinner with Cameron and his wife Samantha in their private apartment at his Number 10 Downing Street office.
He advised them that a donation of 100,000 pounds was a minimum but that 200,000 or 250,000 pounds was “premier league”.
With that kind of funding “things will open up for you,” he said. “You do really pick up a lot of information,” he added.
When they met Cameron “within that room, everything is confidential and you will be able to ask him practically any question that you want.”
He suggested that they could even influence party policy, saying: “If you are unhappy about something, we will listen to you and we will put it into the policy committee at Number 10.”
In a resignation statement in the early hours of Sunday, Cruddas, founder of London spread betting firm CMC Markets, denied that donors would have been able to influence policy or gain undue access to politicians.
“I deeply regret any impression of impropriety arising from my bluster in that conversation,” said Cruddas, himself a major donor to the Conservatives.
“Specifically, it was categorically not the case that I could offer, or that David Cameron would consider, any access as a result of a donation,” he said.
“But in order to make that clear beyond doubt, I have regrettably decided to resign with immediate effect.”
Editing by Janet Lawrence