Sunday 23 April 2017

Crackdown on political donations to parties

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

NEW laws on political contributions will place numerous barriers in the way of companies making corporate donations of more than €200 a year, the Irish Independent has learnt.

The clampdown will also reduce the level at which all donations to political parties must be declared -- from €5,000 to €2,500.

But the legislation does not appear to reduce the limit on the amount of money a party or politician can accept from individuals. Parties will still be able to get €6,350 in donations from the same person in a year and individual politicians can take €2,550 per annum.

And businesspeople will still be able to freely donate in a personal capacity -- just not from their business.

The legislation falls short of the Green Party's claim it would bring in an outright ban on corporate donations.

But the Government believes the strict new regulations will effectively prohibit companies from making contributions.

However, Green Party leader John Gormley's proposed political fund for corporate donations, which would be distributed to parties in line with their support in the previous election, has not materialised.

The drafting of the laws hit significant legal obstacles as there were constitutional issues around banning donations from individuals or companies.

But under the legislation:



  • The declaration limit for donations to parties drops from €5,000 to €2,500.
  • Audited party accounts will have to be provided to the state ethics watchdog.
  • Any company donating above €200 will have to jump through several administrative hoops.
  • Donations over €200 must be declared in company accounts.
  • Donations from trade unions are being made more difficult.


The new declaration limit is in line with what was planned by Taoiseach Brian Cowen two years ago. In his first Ard Fheis speech as leader of Fianna Fail, Mr Cowen said he wanted to reduce the levels at which donations to parties must be declared.

Mr Cowen wanted to halve the declaration limit from just over €5,000 a year to €2,500, which is now happening.



Ethics

But he also said he wanted to bring the maximum allowable donation down from €6,500 a year to €4,000, which is not included in the legislation.

The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Donations) Bill 2010 will also ban all corporate donations above €200 unless:



  • The company registers with the state ethics watchdog.
  • Provides the Standards in Public Office Commission with details of its organisation, shareholding, membership, accounts and annual report.
  • The donation must also be approved by a general meeting of members of the company.
  • The legislation will also reduce from €5,000 to €200 the thresholds for donations to be declared in the accounts of companies, trade unions, societies and building societies.


This provision appears to be targeted at Labour, which receives donations from unions.

Irish Independent

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