By politics.co.uk staff
The investigation into Michael Ashcroft's donations must be completed soon or it could taint the entire general election campaign, the Liberal Democrats have warned.
The Electoral Commission is currently conducting an inquiry into donations made to the Tory party by Bearwood Corporate Services, an Ashcroft company which is expected to wrap up after the election.
But home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne has written to the Commission today demanding they publish their report before the election.
If the donation were judged to be illegal after the campaign, Mr Huhne said, it could taint the entire general election campaign.
"Should the Conservative party secure a majority following the general election using donations made by Bearwood Corporate Services, and your investigation were to conclude after the general election that these donations were illegal, this would raise serious concerns about the legality and validity of the entire election result," he wrote.
The concerns come as Lord Ashcroft admitted his status as a non-dom on his website today, following a decade of mystery.
Opposition parties have basked in the controversy since it broke this morning, but many in Westminster are concerned it could further harm parliament's reputation.
Read the full text of Mr Huhne's letter below:
Dear Ms Watson,
I am writing to you today to request formally that the investigation being carried out by the Electoral Commission into donations to the Conservative Party by Bearwood Corporate Services Limited should now come to a conclusion - in good time before the forthcoming General Election, widely anticipated to be held on 6th May 2010.
Bearwood Corporate Services Limited, since 28th February 2003, has made donations to the Conservative Party totalling £5,056,798.15. It is the most significant single donor to the Conservative party. As you will be aware, for a company to be eligible to make donations to a political party it has to be registered in the UK and carry out business here. A failure on either count would amount to a breach of the law within the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. It is widely known that Bearwood Corporate Services Limited is a company owned by Lord Ashcroft, a Conservative Peer in the House of Lords and the Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, who himself has made donations to the Conservative Party since 26th March 2001 totalling £111,726.09. Lord Ashcroft no longer makes donations to the Conservative party in an individual capacity, because to do so donors have to be listed on the electoral roll. He has so far refused to reveal whether he is registered to vote in the UK, or indeed whether he is a full UK taxpayer.
Given the sums involved and the no doubt crucial role that these will play in the upcoming General Election campaign of the Conservative Party, I believe it is imperative for the maintenance of public trust in the system of funding of political parties that this investigation is concluded before a General Election is called. You will no doubt agree that it would be wrong and undemocratic for one political party to benefit from funds that may yet be judged inadmissible by your investigation. If this were the case, the Conservative party would be found to have relied heavily on offshore finance. Indeed, should the Conservative Party secure a majority following the General Election using donations made by Bearwood Corporate Services Limited, and your investigation were to conclude after the General Election that these donations were illegal, this would raise serious concerns about the legality and validity of the entire election result.
Furthermore, I believe that this investigation is already one of the longest ever conducted by the Electoral Commission. It was launched in October 2008, and yet, almost 18 months later, no conclusion has been reached. I of course accept the need for complete accuracy and thoroughness in any enquiry the Commission carries out, but I also urge you to take account of the implications of any unnecessary delay for public trust and confidence in our political system. I also note that the Electoral Commission is not a court of law, but a regulatory body. Clearly, you could not announce the outcome of this important inquiry only a week or two before polling day, so surely you should do so now. It cannot conceivably be in the public interest to allow this matter to drag on in the dark with the general election so imminent. I am afraid that this long delay, with no indication even of when you will decide, risks undermining the reputation of your Commission as an effective regulator. It is crucial for you now to rule on this matter so that the nation does not face a tainted election.