Political funding reform needed

This has been mentioned in passing on this site before but perhaps it is worth its own thread given recent events. The Irish Times points out today that It is not just Fianna Fáil that has behaved badly over ethical legislation and transparency.

Because political donations below a certain limit do not have to be disclosed to the standards commission, many donations were set below the limit.. The commission also suspects that large donations may be split up into small amounts to avoid disclosure. Last year, when local, European and byelections were held, not a single donation was publicly recorded by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Labour Party. This is a disgrace. Ethical standards and political funding mechanisms require fundamental reform.

In its  2009 annual report published this week SIPO also argues that liabilities should be declared by public representatives and public servants in their annual statements of interests.

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8 thoughts on “Political funding reform needed

  1. Why is it bad behaviour to follow the rules? Either there are suspicions that the parties are lying or being deceitful, in which case SIPO should send in investigators (or whatever it is authorised to do) or the the way in which parties are funded has changed in accordance with the rules (which was presumably the point of the legislation). If we want every euro accounted for, that’s fine but we would need to ban things like church gate collections.

    • Why would anyone want it kept secret they gave money to a political party and what person gives a few thousand in a personal capacity rather than say buying a whole load of national draw tickets – the very fact parties are getting money they are not declaring is cause for concern and the ‘we didn’t break any rules’ doesn’t make it right.

      If the parties really do have nothing to hide then what’s the big deal about being up front on these payments in and also where the money is spent.

      • What I mean to say is, if there’s a problem either enforce the rules or change the rules. There’s no point in complaining that parties’ behaviour is not in keeping with the spirit of the rules.

  2. Interesting letter in today’s Irish Times (July 27 2010) on the spat in Fine Gael over its finances. The author brings to the forefront the bind that party is in — trying to make the case that it is different to Fianna Fail (‘not beholden to anyone’) while at the same time needing sufficient funds to wage the next campaign. Surely another good example of why we need reform of party finance to try and deal with the lack of transparency in the current process? The text of the letter follows:

    Madam, – I dare say Lucinda Creighton is right about who Fine Gael accepts money from and is right that Fine Gael should return any money it receives from developers (Home News, July 21st).

    However, rightly or wrongly, Fine Gael is obliged to play by the rules of the game as they are now until it returns to government and can change them.

    In the meantime, if Ms Creighton is so concerned by “cute hoor” politics, no one is stopping her from leading from the front and setting an example for her Fine Gael colleagues by publishing the actual receipts she used when compiling her expenses.

    She might also provide a proper audited account of how she funded her election campaign and funds the constituency organisation of Fine Gael in Dublin South East.

    How many times have we heard Oireachtas members defend the indefensible in the same way Enda Kenny defended Fine Gael taking corporate donations, using such weasel words as “we broke no rules and did nothing wrong”.

    At the same time, Mr Kenny made the astounding claim that Fine Gael is beholden to no-one, which is of course a patent nonsense because no one makes a corporate donation to an Irish political party without expecting something in return. We know Irish politics doesn’t operate on that basis, otherwise we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in now.

    If Fine Gael really does have nothing to hide then why doesn’t it publish proper accounts of how it is funded and its expenses (to the cent) and in particular, how it cleared its substantial debts and raised nearly €2 million between 1994 and 1997?

    At the moment, not one single member of the Oireachtas, from any party or none, publishes the actual receipts to prove the amounts they claim were incurred, and we’re expected to believe Enda Kenny is going to tackle the massively powerful vested interests in the public and private sector who have so much to lose by any reform, when he can’t even make his own party colleagues publish receipts for their expenses, the way MPs in Westminster have to. – Yours, etc,

    DESMOND FitzGERALD,
    Canary Wharf,
    London, England.

  3. At the moment, not one single member of the Oireachtas, from any party or none, publishes the actual receipts to prove the amounts they claim were incurred,

    Considering the time and effort this would involve this is a bit ridiculous. How many politicians in any political system go to the effort of collecting and scanning each and every receipt to publish themselves? Surely, they would be better off, you know, legislating, meeting constituents and so on i.e. doing their real job?

    • You sound like a politican Observer!

      For example TDs claim that they have printing costs or telephone costs etc, they get a phone bill and they get an invoice from the printer – like everyone else does. Is it really asking too much for those bills to be scanned online – that would take what 5 seconds. Perhaps if the TDs assistant who would be doing the actual scanning, used the time they waste pandering to locals asking for fast track passports because they are either too lazy or too thick to organise their own personal affairs before going on holiday and instead used it to scan on these documents they’d be actually doing the public a service.

      The wreckage is all around us to prove that elected representatives are not a higher form of being and they should be treated exactly the same as the rest of us – pay for their own travel costs to work, pay for their own lunch, who else has a bar in their place of work, who else can make up expenses claims and pocket the claim without providing proof the cost was incurred, who else manages to run million euro campaigns while declaring income of a few hundred thousand.

      So spare me this guff about politicans being too busy or having better things to do than prove the are honest – because from how I see it, given what has gone in Ireland since 1922, if not longer, politicans have zero credibility to be taken on their word or to be trusted – guilty until proven innocent is the best way to approach anything they say or do. Ditto the church, professions, business or the civil service.

      Because knowing they will have to account for their actions and decisions in public is the only way to alter the crony mentality that has infected every dark corner of Irish society.

      So actually, I do expect every single one of them to have the receipts and phone bills and rent agreements or are you arguing it is right they rent offices on the nod and wink and bill the taxpapyer some random amount or bill some higher amount than their phone bill was or charge more for their printing than it cost and pocket the balance? Really?

      • For example TDs claim that they have printing costs or telephone costs etc, they get a phone bill and they get an invoice from the printer – like everyone else does. Is it really asking too much for those bills to be scanned online – that would take what 5 seconds.
        And to what purpose would that serve for an individual TD? Scanning documents and uploading them to the internet does not take 5 seconds. Maybe to someone as computer literate as yourself, but not to the normal punter. Furthermore, if only a few TDs did it like you said – or just FG ones as you seem to wnat – I can see that TD be lambasted by the likes of you for spending x amount on y when you could have bought it for a few Euros cheaper down the road.
        Maybe that is what TDs should concern themselves first and foremostly – with ensuring that they travel 40 miles to save a €5 on inkjets, but I don’t really think so.

        Perhaps if the TDs assistant who would be doing the actual scanning, used the time they waste pandering to locals asking for fast track passports because they are either too lazy or too thick to organise their own personal affairs before going on holiday and instead used it to scan on these documents they’d be actually doing the public a service.

        How many passports are actually fast-tracked a year? Its on public record, and considering that is only a courier service, I don’t really think that the TDs assistants actually spend a lot of time doing that kind of work. But don’t let that stop a good rant.

        Maybe you think TDs assistants shouldn’t respond to constituents’ other queries and concentrate on uploading expenses instead? I presume that – for example – responding to people worried about the length of time it takes dole payments to be sorted, or why they were rejected for a medical card is just pandering and serves no public good.

        The wreckage is all around us to prove that elected representatives are not a higher form of being and they should be treated exactly the same as the rest of us

        Lets just examine this rant at face value.

        pay for their own travel costs to work,

        Okay – is a TD from Kerry’s place of work in Kerry or in Dublin? Or is it both? Think about this one for a second, it would do you good.

        Now, lets think of an example in the private sector. Say you were hired for a job by say the Kerry Co-op, which required you to be regularly in Kerry but to spend about 120 days of the year in Dublin. What happens in the private sector in those instances?
        Do they say that you will be paid the same as the person who works in Kerry full-time doing the same job, or do they give you an allowance for the cost of travel and accommodation and so on incurred from doing your job?

        Unless you believe that a TDs work is only in the Dáil, that they should live in Dublin full-time and that their constituents should only see them for the job interview?

        In that scenario, expecting TDs to behave “like everyone else” would make sense. Otherwise it doesn’t – unless of course you would like to disadvantage TDs from constituencies not in the immediate hinterland of Dublin.

        pay for their own lunch,

        In a wide variety of companies in the private sector, people are given allowances for lunch if they are travelling from the office, or they are able to avail of lunch in extremely subsidised canteens.

        Having dined in a number of the canteens in the IFSC and also on a few occasions in the self-service canteen at Leinster House, I know which is cheaper. And it isn’t Leinster Houses’s one.

        who else has a bar in their place of work,

        Is this really a serious complaint? It is common in nearly every parliament in the world to have such a facility, just as – for example – its common in the vast majority of third level institutions, in the Defence Force, traditionally big employers like Guinnesses and Aer Lingus provided such outlets. Places which demand long hours of individuals, commitment to the company and a genuine belief in collegiality generally try and provide some social outlet for those individuals.

        who else can make up expenses claims and pocket the claim without providing proof the cost was incurred,

        This is arguably the only claim you make which has any bit of credibility to it, but that system has now been changed.

        who else manages to run million euro campaigns while declaring income of a few hundred thousand.

        No political party that I am aware of has run a multi-millon campaign while only declaring an income of a few hundred thousand. Our political parties all declare their income – the problem is with the fact that much of the source of much of the income is not declared.

        Because knowing they will have to account for their actions and decisions in public is the only way to alter the crony mentality that has infected every dark corner of Irish society.

        As I believe you reside in London (if you are the same Desmond Fitzgerald who writes to the Irish Times) you are unaware of how Irish politics operates. There are elections every few years to elect our parliamentarians. That is how they account for their “actions and decisions in public”.

        There is lots wrong with Irish politics, however it needs reasoned and considered thought on how to reform our institutions and practice, not knee-jerk demands based on populist nonsense.

  4. To Observer,

    Firstly, spare me the ‘west Brit’ insinuation. It may please you to know I was born and raised in Ireland and lived there until I was 30, which isn’t too long ago. I have also been constituency chairperson and constituency secretary of Fine Gael for one of the most senor front bench members so I know exactly how Irish politics works and just like someone grows up breathing in sport or music from their parents and enviornment, I had the smell of politics but I tried not to inhale.

    It’s precisely because I know exactly what Irish politics is like from inside that I have such a low regard for it and those who are involved in it.

    It doesn’t make me any less Irish because I had the good sense to leave the country or because by doing so I can see the country, and a particular tpye of Irish person, for what they are.

    I’d argue I’m more of an Irish person because I have the guts to point out what is so deeply wrong with the place unlike so many who prefer to remain in denial about what’s wrong and their own role in causing it by who they vote for.

    I don’t know about your level of IT skills but I can assure you that a 40 page A4 document can be scanned online in about 5 seconds. Faster than if you were to photocopy it and I’d bet those in Leinster House don’t go without when it comes to the most up to date IT equipment.

    In fact, I dare say it’s quicker to scan on the receipts and put them online than it is to write out the claim form by hand in the first place.

    So the argument that providing and publishing receipts for expenses is too time consuming doesn’t wash for a second.

    Secondly, if we were able to see that the expenses claimed were actually incurred and justified we would be less cynical and is it a bad thing that a TD should shop around and get value for money when ordering things paid for by the taxpayer and again it’s not the TD who would do the ordering but their assistant.

    Third, 4000 passports were fast tracked due to TD requests – google it – that’s 4000 people who pushed ahead of other people who had made the effort to arrange their own passport and were not too lazy.

    Applying for a passport in time and correctly is not rocket science.

    Fourth, be it a passport, medical card or benefit, there is no reason why anyone should be asking a TD to do that for them or why a TD would agree to do it. No one is supposed to get anything they are not legally entitled to in the first place and if the TD involvement results in them getting something they are not entitled to that’s fraud.

    I cannot believe for a moment there is a genuine case of a person completely unable to apply for a benefit they are entitled to and who has not one single person or organisation who can help, if for example they can’t read or write properly or have some major health issue preventing them.

    Clientalism is not a good thing and does not add to the general well being of society. The sky won’t fall in if a TD tells someone to get their own passport or medical card. The mind boggles at how many TDs run around chasing the same thing, I assume if one TD is chasing something you can bet every other local TD is doing the same and being played off against each other.

    Five, TDs are paid €100k basic, which is at the very minimum €5k net. Not taking into account allowances, never mind expenses.

    This is more than enough for a TD to pay for their lunch, their petrol to Dublin, their accomdation for the 2 nights of the week the Dáil sits for a limited number of weeks in a year. No non Dublin TD ‘needs’ to have a permanent home in Dublin but of course they all do and in the process use expenses to pay for a capital assest with a special tax regime so they avoid CGT.

    You mention someone working for Kerrygold – Kerrygold is an income generating organisation, the Oireachtas is a financial burden on the taxpayer in that it doesn’t generate a cent in income toward its funding so it’s an apple and oranges comparison.

    I’m sure the Defence Forces and Aer Lingus and a whole lot of other public sector organisations had bars, I bet they don’t now and certainly not those run professionally.

    Do you think high ranking executives in blue chip organisations go to the bar for a pint when they want to celebrate a good result or be sociable with clients. Not in 2010 they don’t.

    If you check on the SIPO site you’ll see that in 2002 the receipts declared for election expenses incurred came to over €8 million yet donations came to only €700k so where did the other €7.3 million come from?

    FF gets €5.2 million in state funding in 2009 that cannot be used for election purposes and FG got €4.4 million yet in 2007 FF spent €1.9m on the election campaign within the actual campaign period, while FG spent €1.6m – and that doesn’t include any referenda, by elections, local elections or Euro elections – which we can assume each party spent the same on again, so where did that money come from when in 2009 FG declared €0 in donations?

    I don’t for a moment underestimate the depth of denial among Irish people about the scale of change and reform that is required in how the country is governed but also in the standards Irish people set for themselves.

    This change has to start from the top down due to pressure from the public up and so far there is not the slightest shred of evidence that those at the top have even acknowledged the need for reform never mind implemented any – presumably because for all the moaning about the recession and the corruption Irish people have not really changed and are too lazy to push a change agenda so why would the estabhlishment change themselves, it’s not like anything will happen to them if they don’t.

    That’s a pretty grim and depressing reflection on the Irish character and I find it amazing that I grew up in the same country, with the exact same educational and cultural influences, as the sort of people who vote for Fianna Fáil and the likes of Beverly Flynn or indeed Michael Lowry or the Healy Raes or the Ivor Callely types yet I have a completely different moral and ethical standard – presumably from my parents.

    I bet when my father was asked to explain the 1950s how he could afford the house he had just bought, CJH who was also buying a house that didn’t match his income wasn’t asked the same question. I bet my father was the exception who didn’t pull a stunt to avoid being a higher tax payer in the mid 80s as he happened to be £1 above the upper tax limit – he paid the extra tax. More fool him so many would say.

    He isn’t perfect of course he wore some shocking golf jumpers in his time and can kill a Nat King Cole song dead in its tracks if he has a mind to.

    When the election comes, we are facing a game changer choice – I would argue even more important than the 1918 or 1932 elections – and time will tell if the penny has finally dropped with Irish people and their attitude to deference to authority has really changed and if they have learnt anything from the horrific revelations over the last few years and the consequences of how they vote.

    So I think asking a TD and Senator and MEP and Councillor ot provide and publish receipts for every cent they claim is a small step in the right direction.

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