Allegations that a donation accepted from the ‘stepfather’ of a Daily Telegraph journalist pretending to be a businessman has prompted the Liberal Democrats to call in the Electoral Commission, the watchdog that regulates party and election finance and sets standards for well-run elections.
Lib Dem peer Lord Strasburger of Langridge is claimed to have been secretly videoed discussing sidestepping disclosure rules so that the donation could be kept hidden.
A Channel 4 Dispatches programme, due to be broadcast next week, is said to have video footage of Nick Clegg meeting the undercover reporter.
Paul Cline Strasburger, Baron Strasburger (born 1946), is a retired businessman who became a life peer in 2011. (Image: Wikimedia)
According to The Daily Telegraph, Dispatches will allege “a £10,000 donation was paid by the stepfather of an undercover businessman which would be against the rules on donations.”
Electoral Commission regulations stipulate that any donation exceeding £7,500 must be declared. The use of a proxy as donor, in order to conceal who the real giver is, is not allowed.
The Lib Dems and UKIP are struggling with a series of scandals just weeks before the general election. The Lib Dems’ former chief fundraiser Ibrahim Taquri is accused of sidestepping party funding laws and has had to withdraw his election candidacy while the claims are investigated.
A spokesman for the Lib Dems said:
“It is common practice for senior party figures from all parties to meet with potential and current donors. Dispatches has raised important questions about one particular donation, which the party is taking seriously.”
“The Party had no reason to believe that the donation was made by anyone other than the person who signed the cheque. When we were alerted to the claim that this donation may, without our knowledge, have been made on someone else’s behalf, we referred this matter to the Electoral Commission, and requested their advice on whether the donation should be handed to the Commission or returned to the donor.”
“We shall comply fully with their investigation and any recommendations they may make as a result. The party has also introduced an additional level of scrutiny to donations to the federal party, over and above legal requirements. This will apply with immediate effect.”
Lord Strasburger, who accuses Channel 4 of ‘entrapment’, has resigned the Lib Dem whip in the House of Lords while an investigation is underway.
Lord Strasburger said, in a statement published by the Lib Dems:
“In the last few months I have been very active in the House of Lords fighting to protect the freedom of the press, but I never had in mind the sort of cynical and contrived entrapment-style journalism to which I have been personally subjected by Channel 4.”
“I am a retired businessman, I am not a career politician. In a purely voluntary capacity, I have been helping the party with fundraising. I have gained no personal benefit in doing so.”
“Whatever Channel 4 may say in their Dispatches programme, I do not think I have committed any offence. Having said that, I believe that we should all be accountable for what we do, so I have invited the Electoral Commission to carry out an investigation into my actions.”