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British PM hosted meals at family home for donors

Associated Press

LONDON (AP) – Britain’s prime minister, facing new questions about party fundraising, disclosed Monday the names of major donors to his Conservative Party invited to intimate meals at his family’s Downing Street apartment and his official countryside mansion.

David Cameron, whose aides had initially refused to divulge the details, published the lists of guests after the resignation of a fundraising aide caught boasting that he could organize access to Cameron in return for large donations.

Peter Cruddas, co-treasurer of the Conservative Party, quit after he was filmed telling undercover reporters from The Sunday Times newspaper that donors who pledged more than 250,000 pounds (US$397,000) a year could join Cameron for meals, and press him over specific policies.

In three private dinners inside his apartment at Downing Street, Cameron hosted, among others, millionaire property tycoon David Rowland, Arbuthnot Banking Group chairman Henry Angest, hedge fund founder Michael Farmer, and Michael Spencer, chief executive of ICAP PLC, the world’s largest broker of trades between banks.

At a fourth private meal at Downing Street _ though not inside his personal home _ Cameron dined with guests including Australian hedge fund founder Michael Hintze, construction equipment maker JCB chairman Anthony Bamford and philanthropists Paul and Jill Ruddock.

The Downing Street complex houses offices, reception rooms and the family homes of both Cameron and Treasury chief George Osborne.

Cameron’s party later also disclosed details of five lunches at Chequers, the prime minister’s official countryside residence in southern England, at which party donors were present.

Guests at the country retreat included Rowland, Spencer, ex-deputy Conservative Party chairman Michael Ashcroft and Howard Leigh, the co-founder of Cavendish Corporate Finance.

In a statement, the Conservative Party said the events were not paid for by taxpayers and not held exclusively for donors.

At a separate event in October, donors to both the Conservatives and main opposition Labour Party were invited to an event at Chequers to raise money for charities that work with disabled children.

The leader insisted that the Downing Street soirees were not intended to solicit funds for his party and were private meals with people he regarded as friends.

“None of these dinners were fundraising dinners. None of these dinners were paid for by the taxpayer. I have known most of those attending for many years,” Cameron said.

Cameron insisted that Cruddas _ who had held his post only for about a month _ had not helped facilitate any access, or helped any donors to attempt to influence government policy.

However, Cameron’s Conservative Party advertises packages for potential donors which include promises of dinner meetings with the leader and other senior ministers.

“From now on, the Conservative Party will in addition publish a register of the major donors who actually attend those fundraising meetings,” Cameron said.

He ordered his party to hold an inquiry into the Cruddas case, an offer dismissed as inadequate by Ed Miliband, leader of the main opposition Labour Party.

“Let’s call it what it is,” Miliband said. “It’s a whitewash and everyone knows it. We need a proper independent inquiry appropriate to the gravity of what is at stake.”

Cameron said that the government would introduce tighter rules to govern circumstances when party donors either offer advice, or have their views sought, on potential government policy.

He also urged new talks aimed at making changes to the way British political parties are funded.

Cameron has proposed a 50,000 pounds (US$80,000) limit on individual political donations, but insists the cap must apply equally to labor unions and wealthy individual donors.

The Labour Party has long been opposed to such a limit, because it relies heavily on labor union funding.

At the 2010 national election, Cameron’s Conservative Party _ which traditionally wins far more in donations than its rivals _ spent about 16.7 million pounds on its campaign, double the 8 million pounds spent by the Labour Party.

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