Call for legislation around referendum campaign funding

Standards in Public Office Commission urges greater transparency in campaign finances

 Celebrations during the results of the Referendum on Marriage Equality in 2015: While political parties are bound to disclose their spend during election campaigns, this does not apply to referendum campaigns. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Celebrations during the results of the Referendum on Marriage Equality in 2015: While political parties are bound to disclose their spend during election campaigns, this does not apply to referendum campaigns. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) has called on the Government to introduce legislation to allow for transparency around the funding of referendum campaigns.

The organisation published its annual report on Friday and confirmed it received 26 complaints in 2016 and opened six investigations.

The report includes previously published details on election spend by political parties and donations received.

The body also makes a series of recommendations on changes to legislation including adapting a new system surrounding money spent in referendums.

The Government is expected to hold a series of votes next year including one on abortion to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which places the life of the unborn on an equal footing to the mother.

The commission says there needs to be a new system adopted which allows third-party bodies to register for the duration of a particular campaign.

The organisation adds: “Provision should be made for transparency in funding and expenditure on referendum campaigns; third parties and political parties should be required to disclose details of expenditure on referendum campaigns.

“Similarly, information should be made available on the sources of funding available to both third parties and political parties.”

Sipo recommendations

While political parties are bound to disclose their spend during election campaigns, this does not apply to referendum campaigns.

A number of third parties are expected to participate in the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

The Sipo report also makes a number of recommendations including adopting a new approach to preventing and detecting double claiming of travelling and subsistence expenses across the public sector.

The organisation, which was established in 2001 and is tasked with overseeing the implementation of ethics legislation, also criticises a decision not to update the current Ethics Act.

The commission says there may be a loophole where some office holders do not fall under its remit.

It says a number of new bodies have been established but they do not have designated directorships or designated positions.

The commission says “it remains of the opinion that persons in all public bodies who potentially may have conflicts between the functions they perform and interests they and persons connected to them hold should be subject to the obligations of the Ethics Acts to ensure that public functions are performed solely in the public interest”.

It adds: “For that reason, it considers that regulations updating the lists of such persons should be made when required to ensure comprehensive coverage.”