British Prime Minister David Cameron defended himself and his party from a widening cash-for-access scandal today after his chief fundraiser was caught on camera promising private dinners and possible policy changes in exchange for donations.
Cameron today promised stricter fundraising rules and released the names of donors who he had hosted at dinners in his private residence, an attempt to argue "he has nothing to hide" after the opposition Labour party charged that British "policy is for sale" under the prime minister.
The Sunday Times newspaper had posted video on its website Sunday showing Conservative Party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas talking with Times reporters who were posing as would-be overseas donors while also secretly filming the meeting.
"Two hundred grand to 250 is Premiere League... what you get is, when we talk about your donations, the first thing we want to do is get you at the Cameron/Osborne dinners," Cruddas told the reporters, referring to a sum equivalent to about $400,000, and to dinners with Cameron and Treasury chief George Osborne.
Once inside those dinners, he continued, the would-be donors could ask "practically any question you want... If you're unhappy about something, we will listen to you and put it into the policy committee at No. 10 [the prime minister's office and residence]… It will be awesome for your business. You'll be well placed."
Cruddas resigned just before The Sunday Times posted the video.
Donors paying big bucks to gain access to politicians is nothing new and hardly confined to the other side of the pond. When President Obama held a state dinner in Washington for Cameron just two weeks ago, the White House invited more than three dozen "bundlers" – mega-fundraisers – who were responsible for raising $10.7 million for Obama.
But Cameron's critics today said that Cruddas' claims seemed to go beyond promising access; they say Cruddas was promising policy changes.
"This government has proved alarmingly susceptible to lobbying and 'bought favors,'" wrote Simon Jenkins in the British newspaper the Guardian, an outspoken critic of Cameron. "Revelations of cash for access and thus cash for policy are… a deep offense against democracy."
Cameron and his allies argue that Cruddas was "boasting" and offering access that he could not actually deliver.
In a speech today, Cameron defended himself from withering criticism, saying he had done nothing wrong.
"In the two years I have been prime minister, there have been three occasions on which significant donors have come to a dinner in my flat. In addition, there was a further post-election dinner which included donors in Downing Street itself shortly after the general election," he said during a speech that was supposed to focus on dementia research. "None of these dinners were fundraising dinners and none of these dinners were paid for by the taxpayer. I have known most of those attending for many years."
Cameron's critics say he has failed to follow-up on his own promises; when he ran for prime minister in 2010, he said he would limit the access that lobbyists enjoyed.
"We all know how it works," he said in 2010 in a speech in east London. "The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear… I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics… An issue that exposes the far-too-cozy relationship between politics, government, business and money."