Who is funding Boris Johnson?
Tory leadership frontrunner smashes record for money raised, but do donors include some with vested interests?
Boris Johnson has smashed the record for the most money raised by a British politician in his bid to become Tory leader, with prominent Brexiteer businesspeople among his biggest backers.
According to the latest register of MPs’ interests, the Tory frontrunner received £702,000 in the past year, with more than half a million of that coming since May when the leadership race began.
By contrast his rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, pulled in just over £185,000 in donations over the same two-month period.
Reuters reports that “hedge fund managers, the chairman of a football club, a director of companies based in tax havens, and a fox hunting enthusiast are among the donors who have poured hundreds of thousands of pounds into Johnson’s campaign”.
The former London mayor’s most recent haul includes a donation of £100,000 from Jon Moynihan, a “strongly pro-Brexit venture capitalist,” says The Guardian, “who played a leading role in the finances of the official Vote Leave campaign”.
Earlier this month, The Daily Mirror reported that Johnson had also received money from a billionaire family behind a development he approved while mayor of London.
Johnson controversially gave the nod to Westminster council’s recommendation for the £100 million redevelopment of Millbank Tower by the Reuben brothers, despite the scheme being labelled “unacceptable” at the time as it contained no social housing. Johnson revealed in July he has accepted £50,000 in donations from one of the brothers James Reuben.
It prompted Labour’s Len Duvall to say: “It begs the question of whether this is a sign of what’s to come if he enters Downing Street.”
In total, more than half of all the donations came from financiers and businessmen who directly funded the Leave campaign, with Labour MP Ian Murray expressing his concern that Johnson will be “financially dependent on an even smaller group of funders who are likely to back the most extreme Brexit or even no-deal.”
Peter Walker in The Guardian says a look into who has donated in the Tory leadership race reveals “a relatively small and incredibly select group of people, almost entirely from the worlds of finance, banking and property – who would arguably have a vested interest in lower tax rates for the high-paid (a Johnson proposal), slashing the rate of corporation tax (as Hunt seeks to do), and a government with less interest in regulating businesses”.
It comes as The London Evening Standard reports that some Conservative donors who have given “in the region of £50,000” have been left “fuming” after learning they were never signed up as party members, and would therefore not be able to cast a vote for their preferred leadership candidate.
“Why give money to get ignored?” one donor said, “I don’t expect special treatment — just not ill-treatment”.
With Conservative party rules limiting each leadership candidate to a campaign spending limit of £135,000, questions have been raised about where all this extra money will go, with a Hunt ally asking the Financial Times: “What does he (Mr Johnson) need that for?”
“In previous Tory leadership elections, some candidates have given any excess once the race is over to Conservative campaign headquarters for the party to use” says the Guardian, while other reports suggest any extra funds will go back into the Tory party’s coffers into a so-called “leader’s fund”.
“Johnson’s ability to pull in such large donations underlines his popularity during the leadership contest and will offer hope to Tory chiefs who believe a Johnson premiership could help fix the party’s finances” say the FT.
The Times cites party sources who say that the party had been left in “dire financial straits” under Theresa May after donors abandoned it amid concerns over Brexit.
The paper reports that Sir Edward Lister, who is charged with overseeing Johnson’s first 100 days in power if he wins the leadership, “is planning to ramp up recruitment and pump more money into Conservative headquarters to ensure that the party is on an ‘election footing’”.
Yet in its rush to improve its balance sheet the party risks running into hot water.
The Daily Mail this month revealed the party has already sold access to the next prime minister to donors for £300,000.
Conservative HQ has already “faced criticism this year after it emerged that the wife of one of Vladimir Putin's former ministers enjoyed a night out with Theresa May and six female members of her Cabinet after she bid a six-figure sum at a Tory fundraiser” says the Mail and “the sale of the auction prize at the Tory summer party will raise fresh questions about cash for access”.