The buying of Election 2007

Fianna Fáil is set to spend €10m on election 2007, with Fine Gael spending less than half that. More than ever, money rules politics. By Frank Connolly, Emma Browne and Justine McCarthy

Fianna Fáil is expected to spend up to ?10m on the 2007 election campaign, more than twice the expenditure of Fine Gael, its main election rival, which says it will spend ?4.3m.

Senior Fianna Fáil sources confirmed to Village this week that the party will spend more in next year's campaign than it did before the last general election, when the total party spend reached more than ?7m, but the indications are that the party's coffers are full to overflowing.

The figure has been boosted by an additional ?3.5m from reserves held in the party's leader's allowance and which is available for use before the election campaign opens.

Fianna Fáil has built up the kitty of ?3.5m from its current and accumulated party leader's allowances, paid by the exchequer. According to the Standards in Public Offices Commission's (SIPO) most recent report, the party received ?2.473m in 2005 to add to its existing surplus of ?994,658. Fine Gael, in contrast, had no money left over from previous allocations.

Asked the size of the party's war chest in advance of the election, senior Fianna Fáil party sources said that they would not reveal details of its finances but agreed that it would be more than the amount spent last time around.

Post-election SIPO figures revealed that Fianna Fáil had spent ?3.5m on the 2002 election campaign itself while party sources confirmed that the prior spending on polling, postering and other election planning cost even more.

In the last election, the party bought in expensive consultancy advice from the US and Britain and had large numbers of administrative, public-relations and press-monitoring staff while private polling also added to the heavy financial cost of the campaign.

"You can speculate on the amount but it will be more than the party spent on the 2002 general election," the source said confirming estimates that the election cost the party some ?7m and created a significant debt for Fianna Fáil.

The party's debt of more than ?1.5m was substantially cleared by the sale of a property in Mount Street while the annual event at the Galway races in July last cleared an estimated ?250,000 and just less than that each year over the past four years, bringing the total to ?1.25 million since the last election.

Supporters, including many of the country's leading property developers, builders and other business people, paid ?4,000 each for a 10-seat table during the hugely successful July race event organised by the Taoiseach's long-time associate and former party fundraiser, Des Richardson.

Corporate donations in excess of ?5,078 must be disclosed and most donors seek to remain anonymous. A party can receive a maximum donation from one corporate donor of ?6,348. Individual candidates can receive donations of up to ?2,538. Donations over ?634.87 must be disclosed.

It is unclear how many donors are making mulitiple contributions to parties and/or candidates which are not being disclosed, although the financial penalties imposed on the party, and the donor, for any breach of the regulations are severe.

The Fianna Fáil national collection and members' draw, golf classics as well as other events raise the balance of the party's election fund. According to a party spokesperson, the average donation to the party is less than ?100.

About half of the total amount spent by Fianna Fáil in the successful 2002 election campaign was raised by individual candidates who are allowed, under current rules, to spend up to ?38,092 in a five-seat constituency, ?31,743 in a four-seater and ?25,394 in a three-seat constituency (see SIPO panel).

In 2002, almost half of the ?7m election spend was used in the weeks and months before the election was announced and therefore did not breach election spending limits, which are monitored by SIPO, during the campaign. It is expected Fianna Fáil will repeat this strategy and spend a huge amount in the period before the election is called.

Fianna Fáil, by virtue of its almost uninterrupted 10 years as the major government partner, is by far the biggest fundraising machine in the political system, followed by Fine Gael.

Fine Gael has confirmed that it will spend some ?4.3m between now and polling day. A postering campaign featuring Enda Kenny has already got underway across the country. About ?1.3m of this sum will be spent by the party centrally during the election campaign, while about the same will be spent by the party's estimated 85-90 candidates.

According to the party's general secretary, Tom Curran, Fine Gael has raised some ?1.2m from the annual draw over recent years while corporate appeals and other fundraisers, such as the annual race meeting in Punchestown and golf classics, have also proven successful fundraisers.

The Labour Party expects to spend about ?1.5m in the election campaign, about half of which will be spent by headquarters, according to general secretary Mike Allen.

"We are going to run 50 candidates and locally and nationally we are entitled to spend ?1.5m," said Allen. The majority of the party's funds come from membership and affiliation fees while Labour gets a total of ?70,000 annually from its 21 TDs, its senators and its MEP, Proinsias de Rossa. The trade union Siptu also contributes ?40,000 a year to the party. The Labour Party organises golf classics and other fundraisers on a national and local basis.

The Labour Party cleared its ?100,000 debt arising from the 2002 general election and, by declining to put forward a candidate in the uncontested presidential election in 2004, avoided considerable costs.

A significant portion of these costs could have been recouped following legislation allowing for the reimbursement of funding in presidential elections introduced by the government some weeks before the planned election date. The parties also receive generous refunds after each local general election based on the number of candidates they have elected.

General election candidates are also entitled to reimbursement of ?6,000 if they obtain a quarter of a quota in the election, which can be of considerable assistance to smaller parties and independents.

The Progressive Democrats spent almost ?600,000 per candidate in national and local election costs in 2002.

Asked about the projected spend for the 2007 general election, a PD spokesperson said it was "a private party matter".

The party has no debt arising from the last election, the spokesperson said. The PDs expect to have up to 20 candidates selected for the election campaign.

Sinn Féin spent just over ?500,000 nationally and locally in the 2002 election campaign and claims that it will spend something similar on its 39 or more candidates selected to run next year. Sinn Féin says that it spends proportionately less than other parties per candidate, as it relies heavily on voluntary labour for its postering and other campaiging methods.

The Green Party spent just over ?240,000 in 2002 and has already made provision for an election spend of some ?150,000 centrally and upwards of ?200,000 by the candidates.

"The Green Party will not go into debt to pay for election costs. Money is raised for the election via the national draw and personal donations, including money from the TDs themselves. The Green Party does not accept corporate donations," a party spokesperson said.

The Socialist Party spent just over ?30,000 in the 2002 campaign and had one TD elected, Joe Higgins in Dublin West.




Standards in Public Office 'presumes' statements are correct

The Standards in Public Office commission (SIPO), which monitors political donations, election spending and political fundraising, does not conduct regular investigations or audits into the accuracy of donation statements submitted by TDs and political parties as they are "presumed to be correct". According to a spokesperson for SIPO, it does not investigation a donation statement unless it has reason to believe that it is inaccurate. It believes that the serious criminal sanctions for furnishing a false donation statement "should, in most cases, act as a deterrent."

SIPO had conducted just one investigation in a donation statement in the past three years (into Fine Gael's Liam Cosgrave in 2003), and one investigation into the election spending of a candidate (into Nicky Kelly of Labour in 2003).

Under the electoral acts 1997, as amended, a list of all donations over ?634.87 received by a TD in the previous year must be submitted to the Standards in Public Office Commission by 31 January. There is a limit of ?2,559.48 from the same person in the same year.

The donation statement must be accompanied by a statutory declaration that to the best of the person's knowledge and belief the statement is correct. A person found guilty of furnishing a false donation statement is liable to a fine of up to ?25,394.76 and or up to three years in prison.

Political parties must also submit donation statements by 31 March of every year. The statement must declare all donations from individuals exceeding ?5,078.95. There is a maximum limit of ?6,348.69 for donations from the same person in the same year.

At election time SIPO receive around 400 donation statements and annually they receive around 181.

Political parties get a lot of their election money from fundraisers. Under the Electoral Acts, parties and candidates are required to declare the profit they make at fundraisers, and not the net value received. It is deemed a donation to the party if the fundraiser is organised by the party, and to the candidate if organised by them.

If there is any profit made on individual payments at the fundraisers, candidates only have to declare profit over ?634.87 and political parties donations over ?5,078.95. Candidates and parties can raise large amounts of money at fundraisers without having to declare any of the donations and this means that there is no public record of how much money is given at these fundraisers.

In relation to election spending, the limits for individual candidates are ?25,394.76 (£20,000) in a three-seat constituency; ?31,743.45 (£25,000) in a four- seat constituency; ?38,092.14 (£30,000) in a five-seat constituency.



Flogging Fianna Fáil

The annual Fianna Fáil tent at the Galway races is a PR fiasco but it beats selling raffle tickets. Justine McCarthy on FF fundraising

Nobody understands the price of power better than Fianna Fáil's reinvented mohair-men, swapping the chance for some cabinet chumminess in return for rich men's lucre. Take that tent, for instance: the dirtiest little four-letter word in Irish politics.

Everyone knows that the Ballybrit Suite, as the slick euphemists insist on calling it, is a public-relations fiasco. "I've told Bertie if I were him I'd pack it in," confides an FF-er friend. "It happens at the height of the silly season, when the media has nothing else to write about.

"They must be cutting down whole forests every year to beat Fianna Fáil with it."

The annual sight of tribunal escapees with bulging pockets congregated beneath the senior government party's canvass in Galway has come to symbolise a peculiarly Irish ethos of power-mongering. Marie Antoinette-meets-Hall's Pictorial Weekly-meets-the planning tribunal. Yet, the soldiers of destiny, with 12 annual tents under their belt to date, are showing no signs of going cold turkey.

Why? Because, as Bertie bluntly put it: "We can't run the party without it."

The accumulated clear profit of ?1.25m from the five Galway race meetings since the last general election makes a persuasive case. It beats flogging raffle tickets, or pitching Taca II, the proposed elite club whereby ?4,500 would have bought you a ration of cabinet hugger-mugger and which, by various accounts, has been quietly shelved due to lack of enthusiasm among tribunal-weary millionaires.

The advantage of the tent for the donors is that a glass of French wine and a plate of crayfish at the ruling party's table is as transparent as political support can get. After one or two years of it, the derision starts to run off one's back.

Among those spotted there this year were Bovale's Mick Bailey (freshly separated from his ?22m tax settlement), Denis O'Brien, Seamus Ross of Menolly Homes (offering ?3,500 Ryder Cup hospitality packages to Dublin councillors), Fianna Fáil councillor-turned-development polymath Bernard McNamara and the usual mixum-gatherum of monied builders – Sean Dunne, Sean Mulryan, Johnny Ronan, et al.

Joe Higgins – the other socialist TD – has rhetorically wondered if Fianna Fáil tax breaks benefited "those multi-millionaires who jet and helicopter their way from tax exile to tug the Taoiseach's sleeve, when, like an Arabian prince, he sets up his tent at the Galway Races each year". The cost of ?4,000 (for a table of 10 people) and a rehash in the newspapers of old misdemeanors is fair exchange for befriending a government minister to the point of playing golf with him or maybe getting his mobile phone number.

The handicap of having no power to purvey makes Fine Gael's version of the tent a rather more lacklustre and much, much cheaper day out for munificent democrats.

The Guinness Gold Cup at Punchestown in April has become the Blueshirts' annual knees-up. A snip at ?1,500 per table of 10. Nearly 600 people turned out this year, including Enda Kenny, MEP Avril Doyle and TDs Phil Hogan, Billy Timmins and Shane McEntee.

For the same price, though, those wishing to lighten their pockets may sit down to dine in Clontarf Castle for the Taoiseach's own
fundraiser. This event began life in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham under the supervising eye of Bertie's former partner, Celia Larkin, but has latterly passed into the hands of Fianna Fáil's fundraising guru, Des Richardson. Officially, the money is donated to Fianna Fáil but it is accepted by the cognoscenti that it is earmarked for spending in Bertie's constituency.

The sense of being part of the Taoiseach's innermost circle lends the occasion a cachet that eludes the Galway tent, no matter how many chandeliers swing from the canopy.