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‘Leo’s lottery’ raises a million for Fine Gael election warchest

Varadkar rakes in largest sum from a fundraiser in a decade


Tanáiste Leo Varadkar

Tanáiste Leo Varadkar

Tanáiste Leo Varadkar

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has banked a cool €1m to pay off a large chunk of Fine Gael’s general election spending.

The takings from the party’s annual raffle has broken the seven figure mark for the first time in a decade.

The Fine Gael Superdraw saw 13,028 tickets sold, at €80 a head, bringing in €1.042m to the party’s coffers’. By far the most lucrative political fundraiser in the country, the funds from the so-called ‘Leo’s lottery’ will pay for elections.

Fine Gael was expected to spend in the region of €1.2m on the 2020 general election campaign, although final figures have yet to be made public. The party re-mortgages its Georgian-era headquarters in Dublin city centre to fund its various campaigns.

The building on Upper Mount Street, a five-minute walk from Leinster House, is worth €2.4m and the party borrows €1.7m over a five-year cycle of general, national and European elections and referendum campaigns. The money is then paid back easily through fundraising in between elections.

The raffle this year will go a long way towards clearing the outstanding debt, letting the party put future funds towards the next round of elections.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Fine Gael has not been able to hold any fundraising dinners or other events. The Superdraw was the party’s only significant source of private funds.

Although the taxpayer pays for most party organisations and operations, Fine Gael and the other political parties have to raise funds for election campaigning, where State funding cannot be spent.

Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny set up the national draw in 2002 when he overhauled the party’s fundraising structures after taking over as leader following the 2002 election meltdown.

Since then Fine Gael’s raffle takings have now brought in well over €17m. The largest amount raised was in 2006, just before Mr Kenny’s first general election as Fine Gael leader, when the party raised €1.4m. The last time the party broke the million euro mark was in 2010, again before a general election, the end of a run of seven years where the draw brought in seven figures.

Last year, the party raised €920,000 from the raffle.

Fine Gael has consistently outspent its rivals in election campaigns over the last decade, due to its fundraising.

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The latest figures, released in recent weeks by the State ethics watchdogs, showed Mr Varadkar’s party spent far more than any of its rivals in last year's European Parliament elections. The party spent just over €1m and won five seats. The next biggest spending party was Fianna Fáil which put €796,000 into the election, winning one seat. Sinn Féin spent €309,000 but only came back with one seat and the Green Party spent €155,832, electing two MEPs.

The next scheduled campaign is the local and European elections in 2024, assuming the Coalition lasts.

Following February’s general election, there was some speculation about a second election. However, the formation of the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party coalition has stabilised the situation.

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