Category: Archive

Ban sought on political donations from U.S.

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — New laws to ban overseas donations to political parties, which would hit Sinn Fein’s fund-raising operations in the U.S. and Australia, are to be introduced before the summer recess as an amendment to the Electoral Reform Bill.

Despite having only one TD in the Dail, Sinn Fein is one of the wealthiest parties as a result of its overseas fund-raising campaigns.

Sinn Fein has been growing rapidly in the Republic and hopes to make a breakthrough in the next general election that would give it a pivotal role in future coalition brokering.

The Public Offices Commission report on political donations last year revealed that Sinn Fein "Friends" organizations donated $44,926.02 from the U.S. and £4,806.59 from Australia. The only other source of funds was £16,000 from TD Caoimhghin O Caolain.

Checks of £50,000 were received by Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats from entrepreneur Denis O’Brien, using his tax-exile address in Portugal. The only other foreign donation was a £9,264 payment to the PDs from Thomas Moran of New York.

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"The wording of the amendment is still being considered, but it is intended to introduce it at the committee stage of the bill," a government spokesman said.

When the plan to ban foreign cash was announced, the government said it was "desirable that an even playing pitch between participants in the Irish political system should not be distorted or prevented by the introduction of disproportionate sums from overseas sources."

The government’s legal experts are studying whether ring-fencing Irish political fund-raising would include reciprocal arrangements with the UK and whether special arrangements will have to be made in respect of the activities of European political parties.

There are also difficulties in drawing up the law to exclude foreign money donated by Irish people living abroad or the descendants of emigrants who would be entitled to Irish citizenship.

In 1997, all of Sinn Fein’s £90,000 declared funds came from their "Friends" support groups in the U.S.

In 1998, Sinn Fein received £214,527 in donations. Two substantial U.S. donations, of $184,256 and $71,952, put Sinn Fein second in the country’s political funding stakes for the year.

In 1999, Sinn Fein got the highest single donation of all the political parties and the second highest total amount in donations after Fianna Fail. The two largest donations that year were for £3,710 plus $117,184 from the U.S. "Friends" in New York and £61,476 from the Australian "Friends" in Perth.

An independent candidate that could also be hit by a foreign cash ban is Dana — Rosemary Scallon. When she ran for the presidency, the largest donation she received was £6,728.32 from Irish-American businessman William J Flynn. It was more than a third of her declared campaign total of £18,500.

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