The Conservative Party's claims that big donors do not influence Government policy are highly entertaining, and would be highly amusing if it wasn't all so serious.
But first, a declaration of interest. I do contribute to the Liberal Democrats, through my membership subscription, a generous £62 per annum, by giving of my time, gratis, to deliver the odd leaflet and more time to assist in the administration of my Local Party and of my County Co-ordinating Committee. If you asked me to put a monetary value on it all, I wouldn't have much of a clue. It does buy me influence, of a sort, but most of my influence is earned, by way of personal credibility, and I like to bear in mind that politics is about communal benefit rather than personal gain.
On the other hand, if someone approached me as the Local Party Treasurer, and offered me a fat cheque, my gratitude would be tempered by a degree of cynicism. Do I know this person to be a committed Party supporter? Is there an agenda underpinning the donation?
Peter Cruddas clearly doesn't think like that. And that's just fine, right up to the point where you appoint someone like him to head up your fundraising operation. You see, if you take someone's money, you are beholden to them in some way. And the bigger the cheque, the more you are.
That might not be a fundamental problem if you're a voluntary organisation, or a charity. But when you're running the country, or even if you aspire to run, the obligation to be cautious is multiplied many times over.
Just take one example, an economic one. Potentially, a government can distort a market by means of legislation, or general policy. If a contract is given following the giving and receiving of a bribe, that's illegal and therefore a crime. If the terms of the contract are altered by legislation designed to favour a bidder who has, at some point in the past, made a generous donation to the governing party, that isn't a bribe. Actually, that's 'legalese'. Really, it is a bribe, except that it is supposedly above board.
In a world of massively increased scrutiny, where more information is available than ever before, where the media is as much in the hands of dogged individuals as it is in those of international media moguls, such behaviour is harder to keep covered up. Most of us would suspect that, for a cool £250K, there would be a quid pro quo, the only question being, "what's in it for the donor?".
So, time for party funding reform... and for lobbying reform. Throw in reform of the media, and maybe, just maybe, we'll have a conclusive answer to the question of whose campaigners are most effective. Can't wait...