Funding controls planned for Lisbon II referendum

 

THE GOVERNMENT is seeking to curb Libertas’s ability to mount a multi-million campaign against the Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum later this year by cutting the maximum donations allowed, and increasing transparency around campaign funding.

Under the plan outlined by Taoiseach Brian Cowen to the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis last night, all organisations involved in referendums will be required to reveal full details about their funding immediately after a campaign is concluded.

The maximum donation that can be given by any donor will be cut from €6,500 to €4,000 a year, while the identities of all donors giving more than €2,500 should also be revealed – rather than €5,000 under existing legislation.

“I want these changes to be implemented before any referendum vote so that we can reach a stage where we can finally say that no individual will be able to distort a campaign through large-scale personal fortunes.

“As we all saw in last year’s referendum, regulation of political fundraising and spending is capable of being undermined by those who only pay lip service to transparency,” Mr Cowen said, to loud applause from delegates.

Questioned about his speech, Mr Cowen said: “I believe that people need to know in the aftermath of campaigns exactly who funded them and whether everything was above board. That is what we are doing.

“It should make a difference in the sense that it is the same rule for everybody and we as political parties before the people are democratically accountable and elected and everyone who becomes part of a political debate obviously needs to subscribe to the same standards as ourselves,” he said.

The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) will also be granted powers to go in and examine every national political party’s accounts “for compliance with the law, and to publish and take action on breaches where they find them”.

All oversight rules, he said, which apply to political parties will “also be applied to groups which campaign to influence elections and referendums”. He did not specifically identify Libertas.

Speaking to journalists, Mr Cowen said: “We are engaged in a lot of reform in this to improve transparency and accountability and to make sure that everyone is upfront about what the source of their funding is.

“Just as political parties should be open to allow Sipo to come in and ensure that all the procedures are complied with and that the law is being complied with, those interest groups or other groups that come forward to influence elections or referenda should have to do the same.”

Libertas has consistently rejected charges from the Yes side about its funding of its campaign against the Lisbon Treaty last year, and insisted that it has complied with all electoral laws.

However, Sipo, chaired by a High Court judge, last November issued a seven-day warning to the organisation to disclose its funding sources, and the terms of a loan granted by Libertas founder Declan Ganley to the organisation.

In his speech, the Taoiseach said action has been taken to ensure that Fianna Fáil raised smaller and not larger donations, and that as much of the money as possible came from members.

“Over the last decade we have implemented a system of regulation and transparency which has brought to an end the era of very large political donations.”

Mr Ganley last night accused Mr Cowen of “snide innuendo” and insisted that the organisation had complied with the funding rules, and continued to do so.

“With the country facing an economic crisis that is the gravest in our history, tonight the best the Taoiseach could offer was snide innuendo. I find it incredible that a Taoiseach who has lost the trust of the public on every major issue of concern to the Irish people now presumes to lecture them about their sovereign decision on the Lisbon Treaty, which was the only major decision this country got right in the past 18 months, no thanks to our political leaders.

“The Taoiseach couldn’t win the argument, so now he’s trying to stifle the debate,” said Mr Ganley.

Fianna Fáil expected to apply

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