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Big money undermining public faith in UK democracy

Over half of donations to EU referendum campaigns made by just 10 donors

7th October 2016, LondonJust 10 individuals or companies were responsible for more than half of all donations made to the EU membership referendum, according to new analysis by Transparency International UK (TI-UK). 95% of all the money raised to campaign in the vote came from only 100 different donors according to available data.

“Take Back Control: How big money undermines trust in politics” also found a lack of transparency in the third largest donor to the referendum campaigns. “Better for the Country Limited” donated £2.1million to leave campaigners, yet was only set up a year prior to the referendum. As they have yet to file annual accounts, it is impossible to know with confidence where all this money came from.

Loopholes and weaknesses in the political donations system can enable access to power gained through making large donations to political parties, politicians and their campaigns. Previous research by TI-UK identified 39 loopholes in the rules governing lobbying in the UK. This can also lead to “political capture” by private interests in which decisions are made for the good of those making large donations, rather than society as a whole.

There’s new evidence to suggest that a series of related scandals in recent years is undermining public trust in UK politics. A survey of the public, conducted by Transparency International, found:

  • 76% think wealthy individuals are using influence on government to benefit their own interests
  • 59% believe donations from companies to political parties should be banned
  • 28% believe ‘most’ or ‘all’ MPs are involved in corruption

Duncan Hames, Director of Policy Transparency International UK, said:

“The debate around the biggest question we have faced in a generation was financed by an astonishingly small group of exceptionally wealthy donors. That’s a dangerous place for any democracy. It illustrates the general dependency of our country’s political parties on a millionaires club of some 50 donors, many of whom also sit in the House of Lords.”

“Whether cash is recognised with access, influence, honours, or a seat in Parliament, this survey shows that it undermines the public’s faith in our political process. Our country seeks to lead the world in fighting corruption yet our politics has been repeatedly dogged by corruption scandals.”    

With no limits on donations, a loosely controlled arms race on election spending, and gaping holes in the reporting regime, political parties inside government and out of it need to act before trust in politics is irretrievably lost.”

To address the problems outlined in the research TI-UK recommends the following:

  • Introduce a cap of £10,000 on donations per donor per year.
  • Company donations only to be permitted where donors can demonstrate they are trading in the UK and their UK earnings cover their donation.
  • Reduce the national election campaign spending limit for political parties by 15% and tighten the scope of the limits to include all campaign staff costs.
  • Reduce the reporting thresholds for donations to from £7,500 (HQs) and £1,500 (local parties) to £500.


Read the full publication here

Dominic Kavakeb
020 3096 7695
07964 560 340


Notes to Editors:

The Top 10 reported donors during the 2016 EU referendum campaign period (data courtesy of the Electoral Commission):

Donor Name£ Amount Donated to referendum campaigners (1 st Jan – 30 th June 2016)£ Other donations made to political parties (1 st Jan – 30 th June 2016)
David Sainsbury42232344275000
Mr Peter Hargreaves32000000
Better for the Country206037599468
Jeremy Hosking169129650000
Diana Van Nievelt Price10000000
Trailfinders Limited10000000
David Harding1000000115,00
International Motors Ltd8500000
Mark Coombs7500000
J C Bamford Excavators Ltd67000056000


Read 549 times Last modified on Thursday, 6 October 2016 18:09

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