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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 12:01 GMT
Who's funding who?
Grab from Electoral Commission site
Eddie Izzard's and Lakshmi Mittal's gifts are noted
Last month it was Enron, now Labour is mired in a new "cash for access" controversy. But now, with the click of a mouse, anyone can pry into the once hush-hush world of political fundraising.

What do the following people have in common: an East End electronics entrepreneur, a cross-dressing comedian and an adventurer/author?

According to the Electoral Commission's register of donations to political parties, they all contributed substantial amounts of cash to Labour Party coffers at around election time last year.

  • Amstrad boss Sir Alan Sugar gave 200,000
  • Funnyman Eddie Izzard contributed 10,000
  • Adventurer Christopher Ondaatje, brother of award winning novelist Michael Ondaatje, wrote a cheque for 100,000

Before January 2001, this sort of largesse would have been treated as strictly confidential by all the big political parties.

How to view the donations
Click on the Electoral Commission website (see Internet links in the top right of this page)
Click on the button marked 'Registers'
Scroll down to 'GB Register of Donations to Parties'
The register can be viewed page by page or by downloading a single Excel file
Today however, it is all available on the web, courtesy of the Electoral Commission.

Alongside Messrs Sugar, Izzard and Ondaatje in the register of donations to parties, is another name with a ring of familiarity: Lakshmi Mittal.

Mr Mittal is the Indian industrialist who donated 125,000 to the Labour Party and received a personal endorsement from Tony Blair during his attempt to buy the Romanian national steelworks.

Big and small

Among the other big Labour donors listed are actor Richard Wilson (1,500 to his local constituency office), Spitting Image writer turned novelist John O'Farrell (2,000 to Labour's Maidenhead office) and numerous trade unions.

Eddie Izzard
Generous: Eddie Izzard
A quick scan of the Conservative list reveals the generosity of donors such as Dixon's boss Sir Stanley Kalms (149,307.25 cash), former prime minister John Major (2,000) and lyricist Sir Tim Rice (6,000 to Central Office and 2,500 to his Richmond constituency).

Philanthropist Sir Paul Getty's mammoth 5m gift to the Tories, which came a few days after the general election last June, is also there, as are donations to the Lib Dems and all other registered political parties.

Along with individuals and trade unions, all donations from companies and other organisations are also detailed, as are gifts in kind.

Raffle prize

Hence it's possible to see that Sir Stanley Kalms also gave 3,525 worth of staff training to Conservative Central Office and a group called Hair Etc donated a raffle prize worth 2,580 to the Tories' Cities of London and Westminster offices - exactly what the prizes were is not noted.

What must be declared:
Any donation of 1,000 or more to a local party
Or 5,000 or more made to the central party
Or smaller repeat donations that exceed these limits
Compared to the wall of silence of only a few months ago, the website is a minor revolution in political transparency. While it doesn't rule out the possibility of future "cash for access" scandals, it does mean we all know who is giving how much to which party.

The site is, however, a little rough around the edges and the Electoral Commission plans to launch a more user-friendly version over the summer.

Something to aim for perhaps is the American model. In a country where politics and big business rub shoulder to shoulder, the site www.opensecret.org is a gift to online snoopers.

Hollywood's donors

Run by the Center for Responsive Politics, the site lists each donor's address and occupation. And thanks to its search engine, anyone can keep tabs on which Hollywood stars, for example, are funding which party.

Robert Redford
Robert Redford: $1,000 to Bill Bradley
So, tap in "Spielberg, Steven" and the site throws up a record of 21 donations made by the legendary movie director over the last three years - including a $1,000 gift to Democratic presidential runner Al Gore.

Silver screen idol Charlton Heston gave the same amount to former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani while "self-employed/actress" Susan Sarandon donated several hundred dollars to Gore challenger Bill Bradley as well as $250 to the Natural Law Party.

And who funds this invaluable service? The people behind opensecret.org are keen to show that while some politicians may be in the hands of big business, they are definitely not.

The site states: "The Center accepts no contributions from businesses or labor unions."

See also:

19 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Steel boss blasts 'naive' Blair
29 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Labour's Enron difficulties
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