The number of big cash donations being given to Watford Conservative Association has rocketed since MP Richard Harrington became its parliamentary candidate.

Property developers, hedge fund managers, investment banks and the owner of high street clothes chain River Island have all given large sums to the Watford party since the backbencher joined in December 2008.

Between 2001 and 2008, the association received just under £90,000 in cash donations, according to the Electoral Commission.

In the next year and a half, leading up the May 2010 election, in which Mr Harrington defeated three-term Labour incumbent Claire Ward, he racked up just under £175,000 in big donations.

Since Mr Harrington was elected, the Watford Conservative Association has continued to out strip the other parties, pulling in £86,000 from donors in the latter half of 2010, 2011 and 2012. In the same time Labour and Liberal Democrats in Watford have registered no large donations.

The figures provide an incomplete picture of the money the Watford political parties are pulling in as only cash donations above £500 are declared.

Speaking to the Watford Observer this week, Mr Harrington said he had put in a big effort to raise funds for his campaign after he was selected to be the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Watford.

He said: “My actual concern when I came to the Watford Conservatives was to have a consistent but diverse donor base of people who believe in me and the Conservatives.

“I put a lot of effort into when I first came. We are lucky to live in a country where the state does not fund political parties and I don’t have trade unions supporting me so I have to do it myself.

“I don’t want to be beholden to anyone so I have built the broadest base. I don’t have one sugar daddy-type donor.”

Among the large donors to Watford Conser-vatives before the election were Alan Howard, named the richest hedge fund manager in the UK this year who gave £5,000 in 2009. Another hedge fund, Merebis Capital Management, donated £1,500 in 2009.

Quite a few of the benefactors of Mr Harrington, himself a successful property businessman, came from real estate companies such as International Group Limited, which gave £2,000 in 2009, London Leisure Services, which gave £5,000 in 2009 and Acorn Property Group which donated £5,000.

Other notable donors to the Watford Conservatives in the run-up to the general election were the Lewis Trust Group, which owns River Island, and Fox Pitt Kelton, an investment bank.

In total, Watford Conservative Association has received just over £348,000 in large donations since 2001. Since the election the bulk of the MP’s donations – £58,000 – have come through an organisation called the Watford Business Club.

Mr Harrington said the organisation was a collection of local businesses which paid a fee for dinners and networking events.