Source of anti-treaty Libertas funding remains a mystery

Thu, Jun 19, 2008, 01:00

ANALYSIS:Declan Ganley says the organisation will comply with the law on disclosing sources of political funding. However, under the law, the public is entitled to know virtually nothing, writes Colm Keena 

THE MOST important point that can be made about the role of money in election or referendum campaigns is that it makes a difference.

It is because fundraising can hold the key to winning or losing elections that politicians and political parties again and again get themselves into trouble over the issue.

Promises are made that are in the interest of the donor rather than the nation, or that stretch the law to its limits, because politicians know that if they are to prevail, they need the requisite funding.

This is why the arrival of Declan Ganley's Libertas on the political scene for the Lisbon Treaty referendum is a legitimate cause for public concern. The organisation - it is essentially a vehicle for Ganley - came out of nowhere, and with a war chest that exceeded in size that of all the main political parties.

Although since the referendum result Ganley has been trying to downplay its level of expenditure, Libertas communications director John McGuirk was quite clear about it during the course of the campaign. The Libertas budget was €1.3 million, he said.

In the last week of the campaign Fianna Fáil, which had been trying to monitor the Libertas spend, claimed it had spent €1.8 million, but McGuirk rejected this and again mentioned €1.3 million.

The money was spent on flyers, billboards, lamp-post posters, inserts into newspapers, private polling and so on, as part of what was undeniably an effective campaign.

Given the outcome of the vote (53.4 per cent to 46.5 per cent), it can be argued that the result would have been different if it wasn't for Libertas and its money. To argue otherwise is to argue that the €1.3 million, and Ganley, had no effect.

So from where did the money come?

The first and clearest point that has to be made is that under the law as it stands, the public has no right to know.

Last weekend Ganley was asked on radio about the source of the Libertas money. He said Libertas would follow the rules and guidelines set down by the Standards in Public Office Commission and make "all that information available as and when it should be available. You will find that not a penny came from abroad to fund the Libertas campaign".

In fact, what the law sets out is as follows: There can be no donations from abroad, save from Irish citizens. No donor can give more than €6,348.69 in any one year. All donations received must be lodged to a single dedicated bank account.

On March 31st, 2009, Libertas, and all other so called "third parties", must give the commission a statement on their dedicated bank accounts showing lodgements and withdrawals during the year. They must state that all the money spent from the account was used for political purposes. And that is it.

Libertas does not have to tell the commission anything about who gave it money. Political parties must disclose the identity of any donors who gave more than €5,078.95, but this provision does not apply to third parties in a referendum campaign.

Furthermore, if a third party takes out a loan it does not have to lodge the proceeds of the loan to the dedicated bank account, and does not have to tell the commission about the loan. There is no obligation on third parties involved in referendum campaigns to tell the commission what their total expenditure has been.

The public has no entitlement to any information at all.

Libertas has said it got its money from donations that comply with the legislation. It has filed accounts with the Companies Registration Office for 2007 and these show no income or expenditure during that year.

McGuirk told The Irish Times during the campaign that it specifically told donors not to give until 2008. He also said it told donors to give less than €5,078.95, so they wouldn't have to be identified, presumably on the basis of a mistaken belief that the law that applies to political parties in relation to identifying sources of funding, applied to third parties such as Libertas. He also said Ganley "and the other directors" funded Libertas during 2007, but then withdrew that remark and said that in fact Libertas had no expenditure during 2007.

Did €1.3 million flow into the Libertas coffers over the first five months of this year, in individual amounts of €6,348.69 or less, despite the fact that it has no national structure? Or did Libertas have access to loan or overdraft facilities, and if so, who was the guarantor? The public has no right to know.

Despite stating it had no expenditure in 2007, Libertas ran a website since at least April of that year. Naoise Nunn, executive director of Libertas, told The Irish Times that he worked for Libertas during 2007, at the direction of Ganley, but while being an employee of Rivada Networks.

Ganley is the chairman and chief executive of Rivada, a US company that sells a communications product to the US military, among others. Rivada has an Irish subsidiary based in Ganley's home in Tuam, Co Galway.

Nunn said David Cochrane, campaign director of Libertas, was an employee of Rivada who operated the Libertas website during 2007. Ganley and McGuirk subsequently disputed Nunn's version of what he, Nunn, and Cochrane, had done in 2007.

Ganley has a second home in Washington DC. Many of the business ventures he has been involved in over the years involved US backers. He frequently works with a man called Don De Marino, who has worked for the Bush snr and Bush jnr administrations.

The first known mention of Libertas was in an article by Ganley published in December 2003, by the Foreign Policy Research Institute in the US. The institute is concerned with the advancement of US foreign policy goals. Ganley argued against the development of the European Union "in contradistinction" to the US.

It is not US policy to work against the development of the EU, although there are those in the Republican Party who see aspects of the EU project as a threat. They will have been cheered by the outcome of the Irish referendum, as were numerous Eurosceptic groups around Europe.

So was Irish sovereignty interfered with in the course of the referendum campaign?

Ganley says Libertas got no funding from abroad. Given the weakness of the law on political funding, it's the only reassurance that's on offer.

Colm Keena is Public Affairs Correspondent ofThe Irish Times