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Press release: Standards Commission comments on funding rules under Electoral Act

Press release

Wednesday 13 December 2017

The Standards in Public Office Commission has noted a number of recent stories published regarding the Commission's administration of the Electoral Act. In particular, questions have been raised regarding whether the Commission's approach to the administration of the Act's provisions regarding political donations has changed in recent months. It has not.

The Electoral Act 1997 (as amended) governs political donations, setting out obligations for registration of third parties, acceptance and disclosure thresholds and prohibiting certain types of donations. Any individual or organisation that accepts a donation over €100.00 given for political purposes is required to register as a Third Party, and is then subject to the Act's donation limits and disclosure thresholds. It is important to note that it is the intent of the giver, and not the use of the funds, that determines whether a donation is considered a political donation for the purposes of the Act.  The onus is on the third party to adhere to the obligations of the Act.

The Act also sets out prohibitions on political donations given by foreign individuals or organisations. Specifically, the Act prohibits donations from an individual other than an Irish citizen who resides outside the island of Ireland, or a donation from a body corporate or unincorporated body of persons which does not keep an office in the island of Ireland from which one or more of its principal activities is directed. The purpose of these prohibitions is to protect against interference by foreign individuals or entities in Ireland's domestic political processes, including elections and referendums. Prohibited donations must be refused or returned.

Where the Commission has information that an organisation may have received a prohibited donation, the Commission may make inquiries. If the Commission is satisfied that no evidence exists that a prohibited donation was received, the Commission will not pursue the matter further. However, if the Commission subsequently receives new or contradictory information, the Commission may review its previous decision with a view to ensuring the Act's objectives are met.

In 2016, the Commission received information that several Irish organisations had received donations from a foreign donor. At the time, the Commission made inquiries and received assurances from the recipients that the donations were not for political purposes. However, the Commission recently received new information that indicated the donations were indeed for political purposes. The Commission sought and received written confirmation from the donor that the funding was for explicitly political purposes. As it is the intent of the donor that determines whether a donation is a political donation, the funding very clearly fell within the Act's prohibitions. The Commission has issued directives to the recipients to return the prohibited donations. In so doing, the Commission has administered the Act as enacted by the Oireachtas. The Commission rejects any assertion that its actions are out of keeping with the provisions or intent of the Act, or that it has acted inconsistently.  The Commission has not changed its approach to implementing the provisions of the Act.

Background

The Standards in Public Office Commission is an independent, non-partisan body with oversight responsibility for the Electoral Act 1997 (as amended), the Ethics in Public Office Acts 1995 and 2001, and the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015. Established in 2001 by the Standards in Public Office Act, the Commission has 6 members and is supported by a Secretariat.

For further information or queries:

Sherry Perreault
Head of Ethics and Lobbying Regulation
Standards in Public Office Commission
(01) 639-5715
sherry.perreault@sipo.ie