2009 donations (Exchequer and private) to parties

On Tuesday SIPOC released details of political donations declared by parties in 2009. Between them they disclosed €78,101.99, the lowest figure since the introduction of the disclosure requirement in 1997. On the same day figures for Exchequer funding for parties were also released. €13.6m of taxpayers money went towards supporting parties.

We now know, regards State funding

Five parties (Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Féin and the Green Party) received funding of €5,438,385 under the Electoral Acts and those five parties along with the Progressive Democrats received €8,164,879 under the Party Leaders Allowance legislation.  The attached table shows the amounts received by qualified political parties for 2009.

In contrast, regards private funding

Neither of the three main political parties disclosed any donations in 2009, even though this was an election year (European, local and Dáil bye-elections).

The money from the exchequer cannot be used for electoral purposes. It funds research and policy formulation, education, general administration and the co-ordination of party activities. The parties get a share of a pot ‘a gold depending on how many first preference votes they got at the last election. I’ve issues with how these funds are dispersed – it reinforces the status quo to some degree, the big three got 85% of funding this year – but that’s for another post.

Parties must provide SIPOC with an expenditure statement and auditor’s report for the Exchequer funding. These are available for inspection at the SIPOC offices on Lower Leeson Street, I hope to go down and have a goo in the next week or so. A summary is available here.

Fianna Fáil spent nearly all their money in the one shop, General Administration. Similarly with Fine Gael, though they did pop next door briefly to Co-ordination of Branches and Members. They spent nothing of it on policy formulation. Labour and the Greens spread their share quite reasonably across all the siopaí. Sinn Féin, admirably, spent a serious proportion of their share on policy formulation and education.

In contrast to disclosures on Exchequer figures, when it comes to private funding parties have to provide no documentation to show how money received is spent. Nor do they have to make accounts public. We therefore know nothing much about how reliant they are on public funds. Considering Fianna Fáil is in debt to the tune of almost €4m, you’d have to assume the €2.3m they received under the Electoral Act plus the €2.9m they got for the leaders allowance, came in quite useful. I’ve no documentation on other parties financial status but word is none of them are looking particularly healthy either.

In their report SIPOC also draw attention to the differing levels of opacity in the two funding streams…

While political parties have benefited significantly from the provisions relating to funding from the Exchequer (see the separate Standards Commission reports on this), the provisions aimed at ensuring transparency and openness in relation to disclosure of donations remain ineffective. It should be possible for each citizen to have a clear picture of election spending by each candidate and party and also a clear indication of the sources for such funding. If the intention of the legislation is to provide for transparency and openness in relation to party funding and expenditure, then it is not achieving this aim.

The Standards Commission has repeatedly stated that there is a strong case to be made for a new approach to the general funding of political parties, for increased transparency in such funding and for greater scrutiny of political party expenditure.

To their credit, SIPOC have consistently called on Government to make the system more transparent. More than ten years ago the Council on Corruption in Europe (GRECO) published a report recommending serious alterations be made to make the political system here more accountable. SIPOC have backed that since. GRECO published a further report in January which SIPOC has now explicitly endorsed. Fianna Fáil have ignored the GRECO reports for more than a decade, I can’t see that changing now. Perhaps Fine Gael or Labour could spend some of our policy formulation money on analysising and including the Council’s ideas in their manifestos? Ya know, just in case.

Lastly – and don’t forget SIPOC is a Government body, this report is pretty ballsy – they note

It is a cause of concern to the Standards Commission that our major political parties do not seem to have much regard to an Act of the Oireachtas that sets out how donations to units of their parties are reported to the Standards Commission. It is also a concern that, as well as the efforts of the Secretariat of the Standards Commission, scarce Garda resources have had to be called upon to ensure that routine documentation is returned to the Standards Commission.

That’s an issue I’ve been looking at for some time, I will publish a story on the topic in the coming week.

Strange how the PDs got no exchequer funding but still got a leaders’ allowance. Anywho…

Update: Suzy Byrne has another angle on the Exchequer funding.

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