Parties remain well funded and staffed even within stricter fundraising limits

The top four collect smaller amounts of money from larger circles of supporters

Richard McAuley’s employment  was transferred to the State after 2011. Photograph:  Alex Wong/Getty Images

Richard McAuley’s employment was transferred to the State after 2011. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Mon, Aug 11, 2014, 01:00

The days of the Galway Tent are long gone. These days political parties are far more upfront and candid about their finances. Perhaps it reflects the recession that has gripped the State for the past five years; perhaps the good intentions will evaporate once that property thing that’s not a bubble begins to inflate again to bursting point.

The public sees more transparency about party funding while the introduction of stricter new limits have dramatically lowered the threshold of donations that have to be declared.

When the rules were changed, parties moved from relying on wealthy backers (as still happens in Britain) to collecting smaller amounts from larger circles of supporters. Parties were well compensated for agreeing to those changes – two State allowances now exist to fund parties.

The first is the party leader’s allowance, which is allotted according to the size of the party. Fine Gael got the largest part of the pot after 2011 and was allocated almost €2.7 million per annum. The other three major parties got between €1 million and €2 million each. Even individual TDs are entitled to this allowance, with a non-party TD entitled to €41,152 and an Independent Senator €23,383.

The second allowance funds the general administration and activities of parties with more than 2 per cent support. It comprises €5 million and is allotted according to the electoral strength of the party.

In all, Fine Gael gets €5 million in State funding each year, with Labour and Fianna Fáil getting about €3 million each. Sinn Féin, following its Dáil breakthrough in 2011, now gets some €1.8 million.

Annual accounts

The four main parties have also began to publish their annual accounts in recent years, which shows how much each raised from non-State sources.

In 2012, Fine Gael raised €1.17 million (compared to €1.4 million in 2011); Fianna Fáil raised €980,000 (€1 million in 2011); Labour raised €409,000 (more or less the same as 2011); and Sinn Féin raised €245,000 (less than half of the €529,000 it raised in 2011).

Sinn Féin is the only party whose accounts do not give a detailed breakdown of the source of the funds, which is stated as “other income.

Fine Gael refers to its national draw (€543,000), party fundraising (€128,000) and special events (€115,047).

Fianna Fáil states it raised €574,000 from its “superdraw”; €223,000 from its national collection; €67,468 from direct contributions and other fundraising events; €51,860 from registration fees and €67,232 from membership.

Labour’s accounts state it raised €119,000 from trade union affiliation fees; €277,000 from member contributions; €2,000 from donations and €11,589 from other fundraising.

Sinn Féin does not provide a detailed breakdown of its “other income”. The figure for 2011 was more than twice the sum for 2012, but again the sources are not specified. It did declare some €21,000 in notifiable donations in 2013 and also raised money from its paper, An Phoblacht.

When the figures are totted up, there is a pot for each party in 2012 of €6.2 million for Fine Gael, €3.9 million for Fianna Fáil; €3.5 million for Labour and €2.1 million for Sinn Féin.

The breakdown of the figures also shows the extent to which Fine Gael is reliant on focus groups and polls when floating policy ideas. Last year, it spent almost €1 million on research, consultancy fees and policy research. Some €800,000 was spent on renovating its party headquarters in Mount Street.

Raising funds

Sinn Féin has been raising funds successfully in the US over the past two decades. The Friends of New York has raised some $10 million since being established in 1995 and raised €263,000 ($359,000) in the six months to April this year.

While these funds have been transferred to the North, the party says none of the money is transferred to the South, where strict rules in relation to such sources of funding apply.

Three of the party’s Belfast-based employees including Richard McAuley, Gerry Adams’s most senior aide, transferred their employment to the State after 2011. A party spokesman said all were PAYE employees in the State since.

The Standards in Public Office Commission has said it would like to see further clarity from parties in relation to their own funds. Its efforts to oblige units or branches of parties to file annual accounts was rebuffed by former minister for the environment Phil Hogan on the grounds that it would be too onerous for voluntary branches with relatively small amounts of cash to comply.

Now the commission has proposed draft guidelines to oblige all parties to file full annual accounts that would disclose in detail their fundraising activities.