By Eoin O’Malley (15 February, 2012)
SIPO last night released details for candidate election expenses – set out here. They provide useful information as to what candidates spent their money on in the campaign and how much each spent. They are less useful, however, for disclosing where each candidate’s money came from. We can see, for instance, that Gay Mitchell spent €527, 152, making him the highest spending candidate, but still well below the spending limit of €750,000. But we have no idea where the money came from, as none of his donations exceeded €634.87. Martin McGuinness spent just over €300k, but received a bit over €4,000 in disclose-able donations. Much of the money from these candidates will have been raise in the form of donations of less than €634. A lot of it may have come from their parties, and donations to the parties will be disclosed separately (this may benefit parties as a donor can give to a party and to a candidate used for the same campaign but not disclosed as such). And some of the money spent may have come in the form of bank loans.
If we care about the non-disclosure of donations, a reasonably simple measure might be to limit the refund that one can get from the state to the amount raised in disclosed donations. Michael D. Higgins, Seán Gallagher and Martin McGuinness each qualify to receive a refund of €200,000 for their election expenses, but if we had a rule that you can only be refunded as much as was spent from disclosed donations, then the total amount would be just over €150,000. This would incentivise candidates to raise money in a more public way. We could also allow those who wish to donate less than €634 to waive their right to anonymity if they want to allow the candidate to claim back on the basis of the donation.
The full list if donations and expenditure is available here.