Questions over Lib Dem leader's funding before TV debate

22nd April 2010, Comments 0 comments

The leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, was accused of irregular funding arrangements Thursday as party leaders geared up for the second pre-election TV debate.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that Clegg, whose strong showing in last week's first televised clash boosted his party's support, received a series of payments from party donors directly into his private bank account.

Three donors paid up to 250 pounds (385 dollars, 290 euros) a month before he became party leader in 2007, said the rightwing daily.

The paper reported the payments were made by three businessmen, citing personal bank statements submitted in 2006 by Clegg to back up his expense claims.

A Liberal Democrat spokesman accepted the payments had been made but denied any impropriety.

"The donations were properly made and declared and were used to fund part of the salary of an additional member of Nick Clegg's parliamentary staff," said a party spokesman.

But the former head of a watchdog that monitors lawmakers' conduct told the Telegraph the arrangements appeared "irregular."

"Given that he's been very holier than thou about these things, it would seem he has some explaining to do to his party and the electorate," said Alistair Graham, ex-chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

"It would now make sense for someone independent to check these accounts."

British lawmakers are still struggling to repair their tarnished reputations after last year's expenses scandal, which revealed lawmakers had claimed public money to pay everything from adult films to tennis court repairs.

The centrist Liberal Democrats have traditionally been the third-largest party in British politics, consistently lagging far behind the ruling Labour Party and the main opposition Conservatives in opinion polls.

But Clegg's strong performance in last week's first US-style televised pre-poll clash saw his party, which has never held power, surge into second, and sometimes first place in a series of polls.

He will be hoping to repeat the performance in the second debate Thursday, which focuses on foreign policy.

© 2010 AFP

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