Electoral Commission concerned about transparency of party funding…

Interesting figures out from the Electoral Commission today for the state of party finances in the time up to the end of 2006. The DUP moved from a modest deficit of -£52,000 to a modest profit of £55,000. As income was down, the shift seems to have been achieved by cutting of expenditure – whereas they spent £100,000 on the ’05 election, and there was none in 2006. Sinn Fein ended ’05 just in profit, but banked a massive fighting fund of £177,000 in ’06, drawn largely from a new Westminster grant (£187,000), as compensation for the fact that the party’s abstentionist MPs cannot draw on the Short money paid to other opposition parties to help them with their costs. Despite a massive drop in income (it lost much of what Sinn Fein was to eventually gain in Westminster funding, and then some), the UUP chipped about £50,000 of its longer term debt. That £221,000 tab for the 2005 election campaign looks in retrospect like a very costly overspend. It was still carrying a £177,000 debt into this election year.

The SDLP, after keeping it all extraordinarily tight during an election year let it all hang out in 2006, turning a £59,000 profit into a whopping £133,000 debt at the end of an election year. The main factor seems to be a massive drop in private donations. Generally, they seem to have put a squeeze on administration, but a new office in the US took over £64,000 out of the party pot.

Interestingly, none of Sinn Fein’s income and expenditure external to Northern Ireland appear in their accounts, since the ‘Six County’ party is run separately to Sinn Fein itself, so their accounts do not (insofar as any of them do) accurately reflect the financial fortunes of the whole party. That said, the Commission itself is clearly not happy about the current state of reporting across the UK. All the information is currently reported as suits the parties (and their auditors), and not according to binding requirements from the Electoral Commission.

As Peter Wardle, Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission noted at the launch:

“The accounts should be a key source of information for anyone wishing to find out more about how a political party is funded, and what it spends its money on. Without complete and open accounts, you cannot have full transparency about party finances.

“The rules on transparency are vital to public confidence and integrity in the democratic process. That’s why we are now taking a tougher approach to ensuring parties follow the rules, including fining parties who don’t submit their accounts on time and looking at how we can get parties to improve the ways in which they present their accounts.”

Expect some serious lobbying on this issue…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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