Monday 19 February 2018

It's cash that counts in an election

In 2011, Fine Gael spent €1m more than its nearest political rivals to secure the reins of power

Party spending during the 2011 General Election campaign
Party spending during the 2011 General Election campaign
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

Power may bring with it responsibility, but it also comes at a price. And in the case of the 2011 general election, the current coalition of Fine Gael and Labour and the leading opposition party, Fianna Fail, paid the highest prices by far.

A detailed analysis conducted by the Sunday Independent shows that of the €9,277,638 deployed by all the political parties during that campaign, a massive €7,215,843 of it was spent by the country's three biggest parties. Coincidentally, having accounted for 77pc of the overall election spend, Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail ended up securing a combined 133 seats, or just over 80pc of Dail Eireann's 166 seats.

In securing its 76 seats, Fine Gael splashed out €3.12m, outstripping the €2.138m and €1.956m respective spends of Fianna Fail and Labour.

In terms of its average cost per Dail seat, however, the senior Government party forked out €41,055, or less than half the average of €106,939 spent by Fianna Fail in the process of securing its 20 seats. Labour's bill for its electoral success works out at an average cost of €52,886 for each of its 37 seats.

However, those calculations are crude and don't do justice to the sophisticated election machines operated by our political parties when they come looking for our votes.

Election expenses statements submitted by Fine Gael general secretary Tom Curran to the Standards in Public Office Commission following the 2011 general election provide a fascinating insight into the spending which helped his party come tantalisingly close to securing an overall majority.

The document - a copy of which has been obtained by the Sunday Independent - contains the full detail of Fine Gael's spending, both at national level and on its candidates, on various items including market research, public relations, advertising, publicity, election posters and leaflets.

It also gives an indication of the party's thinking when it came to securing the election of its people in what it considered to be key constituencies.

An examination of the sums assigned by Fine Gael's national agent to the candidates across all 43 constituencies reveals wide variations in the monies given to assist with individual campaigns.

In Cavan-Monaghan, for instance, failed candidate Peter McVitty assigned €29,380 in funds to Fine Gael but received a mere €279 back from the party. Compare that to Louth, where Peter Fitzpatrick assigned €20,340 to Fine Gael and then received €23,883 back, which helped him to secure his seat.

The documents also reveal the massive sums Fine Gael paid for market research, strategy and promoting its brand online during the election campaign. Take, for example, the €109,546.62 it paid to Washington DC-based political consultants Quinlan, Greenberg & Rosner for market research and the €24,095.32 paid to Fleishmann Hilliard for PR work.

And while €178,127 was spent on election posters, Fine Gael's online campaign saw creative agency Chemistry paid €357,395. ElectionMall, an "online one-stop shop for running and winning campaigns", received €117,975 from Fine Gael.

Sums of €59,169 and €39,447 were disbursed from this amount to Google and Facebook respectively.

Sunday Independent

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