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Supervision of the third party provisions

The Standards Commission takes what it considers to be a practical approach in supervising the provisions of the Act relating to registration as a third party and the furnishing of Certificates and bank statements.

a) Registration of third parties

One of the main challenges the Standards Commission has faced in supervising these provisions of the Act is to make individuals and groups aware of the requirements of the legislation. Most individuals or groups are unaware of the requirement to register as a third party if a donation in excess of €126.97 is received, and many do not regard the activities in which they are engaged as being for political purposes.

Failure to register as a third party, if required to do so, is an offence under section 25(1)(e) of the Act. The Standards Commission considers it particularly important, therefore, that potential third parties are made aware of the requirements of the Act. The Standards Commission adopts the following approach in this regard:

  1. The Standards Commission may publish a public notice each year in the national press setting out the requirements of the legislation. In addition, a more detailed explanatory note on the requirements of the Act is published on its website. The explanatory note is also made available to potential third parties which contact the Standards Commission. When an election or referendum is being held, the Standards Commission may publish an additional public notice about the requirements of the legislation attaching to third parties who may be campaigning at the election or referendum.
  2. Where potential third parties come to its attention, the Standards Commission contacts the individual or group and provides a copy of its explanatory note. The onus is then on the individual or group to decide whether or not there is a requirement to register as a third party.

The Standards Commission does not determine whether a particular individual or group is a third party. When contacting potential third parties, the Standards Commission may advise that a particular activity is captured by the definition of political purposes. In most cases, however, the Standards Commission will not have evidence that the individual/group received a contribution of €126.97 which was given for political purposes. The Standards Commission cannot determine, therefore, that the individual/group is a third party. The onus is on the individual or group itself to determine if there is a requirement to register as a third party.

b) Furnishing annual returns in respect of a political donations account

Section 23B(5) of the Act requires the responsible person of a third party to furnish a Certificate and bank statement in relation to the third party's political donations account. The Act provides that this documentation must be furnished to the Standards Commission every year. The requirement to furnish such material annually assumes that individuals or groups which have registered as third parties remain in existence as third parties. In practice, the vast majority of third parties have registered with the Standards Commission in relation to a particular campaign and their "political" activity has not extended beyond that campaign.

To ensure that it is not pursuing third parties which are no longer in existence or which are no longer "politically" active, the Standards Commission requests third parties each year to confirm whether or not they intend to continue in existence as a third party. If a third party informs the Standards Commission that it is no longer an active third party, no further contact is made with that individual or group unless, through further activity or campaigning, the individual/group comes to the Standards Commission's attention again.

The Standards Commission also recognises that the political donations accounts of some third parties may not be active in a particular year. Each year the Standards Commission writes to the responsible persons of those third parties which were registered with it during the preceding year and encloses a Certificate of Monetary Donations form for completion. The responsible person is asked to confirm if there was any activity on the political donations account during the preceding year. If there has been activity on the account, the responsible person is required to complete the Certificate of Monetary Donations form in full and provide a copy of the bank statement in respect of the preceding year. If there has not been any activity on the account in the preceding year the responsible person is only required to state this. He/She is not required to complete the Certificate of Monetary Donations form or to provide a bank statement.

Individuals or groups which registered with the Standards Commission as a third party during 2008 must furnish a Certificate and a bank statement to the Standards Commission by 31 March 2009. The Act prohibits the disclosure of the contents of these Certificates and bank statements unless a court orders disclosure or where disclosure is required in connection with a Standards Commission investigation.