Bloomberg boosts funding of UK politics

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 19, 2015 5:04 AM

By Simon Falush

LONDON (Reuters) - A company owned by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has almost doubled its political donations in the UK over the past four years, records of electoral donations show. 

Bloomberg TradeBook, a British-registered financial markets broker and research firm owned by U.S. financial information giant Bloomberg LP, gave money to all three traditional leading parties, an approach that is unusual in the UK.

Since January 2011 the company has given 240,000 pounds ($369,000) to the Labour Party, 210,000 pounds to the Liberal Democrats and 100,000 pounds to the Conservatives. 

The company is one of the 10 biggest corporate donors to the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, the data shows, and among the top 50 to Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives.

Including gifts in kind, TradeBook has almost doubled its political donations in the last four years to 640,704 pounds, compared with 369,567 pounds in the four years to 2010, when the last general election was held.  

Bloomberg declined to comment.

Britons vote this May in an election that polls indicate may yield no clear winner. Political funding is in the spotlight. The Conservative Party, dominant partner in the ruling coalition, has been criticized for relying on big donations from wealthy financiers. Labour, the main opposition party, receives much of its funding from unions. British law bars donations from foreigners or foreign corporations, but locally registered subsidiaries of foreign firms can donate.

Spokespeople for the Labour and Conservative parties said the Bloomberg donations comply with Electoral Commission rules.

A spokesman for the Liberal Democrats declined to comment.

Funding the UK political system in a non-partisan way makes sense for Bloomberg, said one analyst.

"Bloomberg needs London almost as much as NYC and needs a successful financial system to be sustainable," said Claire Enders of research company Enders Analysis.

But Alex Runswick at Unlock Democracy, a pressure group, said that corporate donations to multiple parties risks “reinforcing the perception that politicians listen to donors and lobbyists but not voters."

Michael Bloomberg has been both a Democrat and Republican, but is now a registered independent. In 2013 and 2014, he gave almost $10.9 million to U.S. political parties, 95 percent of it to Democrats and liberal candidates and 5 percent to Republicans and conservatives, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a U.S. watchdog.     

Reuters is a competitor to Bloomberg LP. Both companies provide news, data and information to business and media clients. Parent company Thomson Reuters does not donate to political parties, according to a company spokesman. 

ACROSS PARTY LINES

While companies in the United States often support multiple parties, such an approach is rare in Britain. Only two other firms have given substantial cash donations to all three main UK parties since 2011, the data shows.

Canary Wharf Group, a property management firm, has given 173,265 pounds in total. “Canary Wharf Group aims (to support political parties) in an even-handed way, as part of promoting democracy and the political system,” a spokesman said.

Peak Scientific, which manufactures generators used in scientific laboratories, has given 40,000 pounds in total, which it said was to support a campaign to keep Scotland within the UK. 

Bloomberg, whose ex-wife is from England, has in the past called Britain his second home. The government gave him an honorary knighthood last October in recognition of his "prodigious entrepreneurial and philanthropic endeavors."   

($1 = 0.6568 pounds)

(Additional reporting by Himanshu Ojha; Editing by Janet Roberts, Simon Robinson, and Sara Ledwith)