POLITICS
22/08/2012 09:18 BST | Updated 22/10/2012 06:12 BST

Searchthemoney.com Promises To Expose Tory MPs 'Secret' Donations

Leftwing activists have launched a new website which they claim exposes "secret" donations to Conservative MPs, the latest salvo in a war of words over how politicians are funded.

Searchthemoney.com, launched on Wednesday, cross-references existing data from various public websites to catalogue the total amont of money Tory MPs have received and where it has come from.

Most of the data is readily available from existing sources such as the Electoral Commission and the Parliamentary Register of Members Interests.

The organisers, linked to left-leaning political blogs, say the practice of Conservatives getting money from so-called "supper clubs" makes it difficult to identify which individuals are supporting MPs.

Supper clubs, known formally as unincorporated associations, can donate up to £25,000 a year to an MP or party without having to even declare themselves. In addition they can send individual donations of up to £7,500 at a time without saying which individuals put up the money.

The activists are calling for the Electoral Commission to change the rules so that these donations and groups have to declare who they are. They point to two clubs in particular - the United & Cecil Club and the Carlton Club - which between them have donated up to £1m without saying which individuals were behind the donations.

The activists behind the site launched on Wednesday appear to be trying to counter the constant ribbing by Tory MPs that Labour is beholden to trade unions, after figures published this week suggested that Labour still relies on them for three-quarters of its income.

The wider picture is one of young activists on both sides trying to call out their political opponents. On the Tory side a group called the Trade Union Reform Group is trying to outlaw so-called "Pilgrims" - union placemen who are entirely funded by the taxpayer to handle workplace relations.

Senior Tories including the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles have pledged to ban Pilgrims, meanwhile wider discussions about political party funding remain in deadlock. The Tories view Labour's pledge to cap donations at £5,000 as disnengenuous because they believe the unions would encourage its members to donate individually.

Electoral Commission figures published this week suggested a big drop in donations to political parties, mostly caused by a drop in the amount trade unions gave to Labour in the second quarter of this year. The unions say the drop can be explained by a large amount of money given to Labour to fund the London Mayoral campaign and the local government elections in May, which would have appeared in figures for the previous quarter.

The cash-for access row surrounding former Tory co-treasurer David Cruddas which engulfed Downing Street in April didn't apear to have any major effect on Conservative party funding - its total donations from companies dropped but its income from individuals remained stable.