The problem with political funding is that those involved try to avoid the question: “What is being sold and what are people buying?” Peter Cruddas was selling, and selling is different from fundraising. When fundraising you collect money from philanthropic people who are happy to contribute to the greater goal, when selling money is exchanged for a product or service. Whether Cruddas could deliver on his promises is up for debate, but it is clear that he considered his role as Conservative fundraiser to be that of a salesperson. The more you paid the more bespoke the product could become.
The simple answer to the question is ‘access’. Access to the policy formation debate, access to those who draft proposals – and if you show “Premier League” credentials – access to the leader. What is more complex to measure is what sort of influence was being traded. In his desperation to make a deal Peter Cruddas emphasised that the more money given the better the chance to influence. He did point out that there were no guarantees that ‘access’ would lead to ‘influence’, but for enough money your words could directly penetrate David Cameron’s brain.
It is not healthy for any organisation to have a narrow donor base. If you end up relying too much on one source there is a risk you give too much focus on narrow concerns, and ignore other possibilities. For example, due to their reliance on Union funding Labour are paralysed when considering economic and business policy. In the six years since I have been a member the CCHQ have done nothing to increase the amount of small donations raised. If you don’t want my £10 and don’t appreciate my £10 why should I give it to you? The Cruddas scandal once again makes me wonder whether the central leadership values (or even considers) the majority of members.
3 easy ways to raise money from the wider membership
1) Give the grassroots a chance for access. We love a good raffle in the Conservative Party. The Party should say that every party member who donates £10 or more in the month of April will be entered into a raffle where six winners will get to have dinner with David Cameron. Front line activists – like you and I – will be able to quiz our leader on whatever subject we wish. After the event WebCameron can post a five minute edited highlights of the discussion. This adapts a successful strategy tried by Obama.
2) Ask for targeted donations. If I give £10 to the central Conservative Party what am I giving my money towards? If I give £10 to my local association then I know it will go on leaflets or towards the salary of an agent but I have no idea what CCHQ spends funds on. If I was asked to donate towards formulating a social action tool kit then I would know my money was going towards something I valued. This fundraising tactic would force CCHQ to consider the benefits of grassroots buy-in.
3) Make contributing easier. Send me a text saying that if I reply then £10 will go towards a specific product. In the same way that Amazon and others securely store payment details (PayPal is probably best) allow me to one click donate every time I visit Conservative.com. And send out emails that draw me into the site, not just rehashed press releases.
* This blog is about raising funds for the central party. There are many good examples of individual associations and MPs who raise money for specific local needs.