Parties use millions of public funds for election war chests

Fianna Fáil received €5.6m in State funding last year under three schemes

Fine Gael  recorded a surplus for 2017 of €1.6m. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty

Fine Gael recorded a surplus for 2017 of €1.6m. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty

 

Political parties are using million of euros of public funding to bolster their financial position ahead of European and local elections – and perhaps a general election – next year.

Audited party accounts for 2017, released by the Standards in Public Office Commission yesterday, show parties repairing their balance sheets with State funding and squirrelling away cash after the election in 2016 in anticipation of next year’s elections.

While parties are prohibited from using State funding for the purposes of electioneering, they are entitled to spend the cash preparing for elections by using it for research, communications, party organisation, publicity and other preparations.

The Fianna Fáil accounts state explicitly that while the party’s financial position is “now a relatively positive one”, its treasurers are “focused on ensuring that the party’s finances are well positioned for the challenges emanating from the upcoming electoral cycle”.

Fianna Fáil received the greatest amount of State funding last year, taking in €5.6 million under three schemes – the electoral acts funding (related to the share of the vote in the last election), the party leaders’ allowance (related to the number of Oireachtas seats) and staff support and funding from the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

It also took in €550,000 in its national draw, €184,000 in its national collection (including the church gate collection) and more than €400,000 from members’ subscriptions.

The party used its strong income to pay off debt and build up cash – it had some €700,000 by the end of the year – in advance of forthcoming elections.

Fundraising

Fine Gael has the strongest financial position of any of the parties, recording a surplus for the year of €1.6 million and was holding cash at the end of 2017 of some €1.6 million. Though its public funding is lower than Fianna Fáil’s because many of its TDs are Ministers or Ministers of State and enjoy the support of their civil servants, the party had a strong performance in fundraising and subscriptions income.

Sinn Féin recorded a deficit for the year of €50,000 after a surplus of some €200,000 the previous year. Its accounts record net funds of €150,000 at the end of the year, a decline of some €90,000 from the end of 2016. It made a contribution to the “six counties” organisation of €165,000 during the year.

The Labour Party experienced a drastic drop in State funding when it suffered heavy seat losses at the 2016 election but the party retained a significant cash buffer to assist in its rebuilding. Last year, it received State funding of €1.6 million (plus €100,000 in subscriptions), recording a surplus for the year of €150,000. However, the accounts show a hefty cash pile – some €2 million is at the party’s disposal as it seeks to rebuild its organisation and support.

Even the smaller parties such as the Greens and the Social Democrats – who receive a fraction of the funding of the larger parties – have accumulated cash reserves.

The Greens, who took in €530,000 from the State in 2017, recorded a surplus of €150,000 for the year and had cash free at the end of the year of about €400,000. The Social Democrats took in about €600,000 (the vast bulk in State funding) and spent slightly more. But the party, which has two Dáil seats, was still sitting on €200,000 in cash and reserves at the end of 2017.

Solidarity/People Before Profit received almost €900,000 in State funding, and spent all of it – plus slightly more – also recording a small deficit. However, the party still had €150,000 in the bank at the beginning of this year.

All parties will receive similar grants from public funds this year.