Murky Money

28 Apr 2024
British currency

‘Murky’ groups have poured £5m into politics since 2022. Who are the donors: we can't tell.

The Good Law Project reports ( that, since Rishi Sunak became prime minister, anonymous dining clubs and special interest groups, set up as ‘unincorporated associations’, have funnelled millions into political parties. But who’s splashing the cash?

Politics in the UK is awash with dark money raised from opaque members’ clubs, special interest groups and anonymous dining societies. Since Rishi Sunak became prime minister in 2022, the three main political parties have brought in almost £5.3m from “unincorporated associations”, with much of this untraceable money poured into the marginal constituencies that will determine the general election.

Unincorporated associations are groups that two or more people can set up without complicated legal structures. This light-touch regulation is ideal for running a local football club or a community hall. But it also allows details of the individual donors pumping millions into our divided politics to remain entirely hidden.

While all three major parties receive money from unincorporated associations, the Tories bag the lion’s share. Powered by fine dining societies and exclusive members’ clubs on the London circuit, which often offer privileged access to ministers, the party has raked in £3m during Sunak’s premiership – about a fifth of the total the Tories spent on the 2019 general election.

In the UK, political parties must declare how they raise money to the Electoral Commission, so that everyone can see where they get their funding. There are strict rules around donations to make sure that foreign powers and people who live abroad can’t buy influence. But there’s no need for unincorporated associations to declare anything to the commission unless they give more than £37,270 in any one donation, or the same amount in any calendar year. And even if an association needs to register, gifts of less than £500 can be kept entirely anonymous – even if someone gives £499 again and again.

According to the Electoral Commission, transparency over political funding is “crucial in supporting voter confidence in the integrity and fairness of the system”.

The commission said it has already highlighted “weaknesses in the checks on political donations to unincorporated associations, as associations are not required to ensure that those who donate to them are permissible donors. This means that they could legitimately make donations using funding from otherwise impermissible sources, including from overseas.”

The commission added that there are “no transparency requirements in law for unincorporated associations which donate to candidates, rather than to political parties or campaigns”, and said it was “ready to work with government or parliament on strengthening controls around political donations”.

For more on this and other stories about abuse of power go to

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