Environment Minister Phil Hogan yesterday published legislation to “significantly enhance” the openness of political funding.
However, the legislation appears to fall short of the Programme for Government commitment “to ban corporate donations to political parties” completely.
The aim of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill is two-fold: provide greater transparency around funding and increase the number of women in politics.
On the funding front, corporation donations over €200 will be banned unless the donor has registered with the Standards in Public Office Commission.
Companies, trade unions, societies and building societies will all be considered corporate donors.
The commission will establish and publish a register of such donors so that the public can see the information for themselves.
The maximum amount a political party can accept from a single donor will fall from €6,348.69 to €2,500.
The maximum amount an individual politician or election candidate can accept will fall from €2,539.48 to €1,000.
These donation limits will apply to non-corporate as well as corporate donors. But the declaration thresholds will be different.
A corporate donor will have to register if giving a sum over €200. But parties will have to declare donations from a non-corporate donor only if the sum exceeds €1,500.
This will be a significant reduction on the existing declaration threshold, however, which is €5,078.95.
Previously, parties had made a fine art of soliciting donations beneath that threshold, meaning neither donors’ identities nor the overall amounts raised were declared.
For example, Mr Hogan’s own party, Fine Gael, has not declared a single donation to the commission since Enda Kenny became leader in 2002. Labour and Fianna Fáil also failed to declare any donations to the commission in several of those years.
“This legislation will address issues of serious public concern in the operation of political funding arrangements in Ireland,” Mr Hogan said.
“Corporate donations will be restricted, political party accounts published, the maximum amount that can be accepted as a political donation will be more than halved and the transparency of such donations significantly enhanced.”
The legislation also seeks to improve the gender balance in politics. Under the new rules, at least 30% of each party’s candidates at the next election will have to be women and at least 30% men. If a party fails to reach either quota, it will lose half of its state funding.
The legislation is expected to be enacted in the new year.
LABOUR says it will be hit hard by the new legislation as money given to the party from the SIPTU trade union in membership fees will now be branded as a corporate donation.
It means the amount SIPTU can give to the party will plummet, according to Labour sources.
They say membership fees paid by SIPTU to Labour amount to roughly €100,000 a year.
The Standards in Public Office Commission had previously ruled membership or affiliation fees paid by unions to political parties “are not regarded as donations”.
However, the legislation will change that, according to Labour, meaning SIPTU head office will no longer be able to give more than €2,500 to the party in a single calendar year.
Instead, Labour will have to collect the affiliation fees from individual union members rather than having SIPTU doing that task.
The sources say there is “no way” the party will manage to collect anywhere near the same amount as SIPTU had been managing.