Sunday 26 March 2017

Fianna Fail to raise €1m in Obama-style fundraiser

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

DEBT-ridden Fianna Fail is on course to raise more than €1m this year from a new 'Obama'-style fundraising drive aimed at grassroots supporters.

The cash-strapped party has turned to raising small sums from large numbers of supporters to bail them out of their €3.65m debts before the 2012 general election.

Despite languishing in the polls, the main government party has landed a €600,000 windfall from its national draw -- a massive 120pc increase on the previous year.

Fianna Fail also expects to bring in upwards of a further €450,000 from its national collection.

The proposed ban on corporate donations means the party is gradually moving away from targeting larger sums from the business community.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen is understood to favour the ban, as agreed with the Green Party during the re-negotiated Programme for Government.

Senior Fianna Fail figures now believe accepting such corporate funds is "just not worth the hassle" in the current climate.

Promising

Mr Cowen is also promising to cut the maximum allowable donation to a political party from roughly €6,500 per year to €4,000 per year.

He is also proposing to halve the declaration limit from just over €5,000 per year to €2,500.

These moves will further limit the party's ability to raise larger sums.

The latest figures available for declaring donations, dating back to 2008, show Fianna Fail disclosed donations of just €11,800 above the thresholds.

US President Barack Obama raised millions for his historic election campaign through small sums donated by large numbers of people.

And Fianna Fail has decided this is the route to clear its debts. The party said 72pc of its donations come in sums of less than €100. It now wants to increase this percentage.

"It's about following the fundraising model so you get a larger number of smaller donations," a party source told the Irish Independent.

Fianna Fail has to arrange bridging finance from its banker to carry over the €3.65m debt, but hopes to reduce it by at least €1m this year.

"The plan is to clear it over the next two years. All parties have debts, if they are being honest, but you have to manage it," a source said.

The Greens will test the sincerity of Fianna Fail's willingness to clean up politics as the junior coalition party is threatening to pull out of government if corporate donations are not banned.

Senior Fianna Fail figures said the Greens' demand for the corporate donations ban will not be a sticking point.

Given the negative publicity attached to the party being linked to business, banning such donations entirely won't be as big a problem, according to several Fianna Fail sources.

"The party that will have most to lose from it (the ban) is Fine Gael. It's not as huge a problem from our point of view. You can call it the Obama model: get a small amount from as many people as possible," a senior party figure said.

"Most of us are sick to the teeth of this (links to business) being thrown at us when it's not true. It's not worth the hassle," the source said.

At their conference two weeks ago, the Greens passed a motion seeking the introduction of the legislation on donations by January 31, 2011.

Green Party TD Paul Gogarty said he was one of those who would be voting to pull out of Government if the corporate donations ban was not resolved.

Environment Minister John Gormley, the Greens' leader, says his party has a commitment for the first time in the history of the State of "getting rid of corporate donations from Irish politics".

Several Fianna Fail sources pointed to a speech by Mr Cowen on the opening night of his party's ard fheis last year.

The Taoiseach said he was in favour of slashing the level of donations parties were allowed to accept and the point at which donations have to be declared.

"It was never specifically said. But you're bringing it down to the level any individual can make.

"It is basically saying Fianna Fail isn't going to be funded by corporate donations. That's where we're going," a party source said.

Irish Independent

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